Touchscreen Card Devices May Prevent Blind Customers Paying

Published Nov. 05, 2023
By Drew Hyndman
BBC Access All

Blind customers are being left “frustrated” and “embarrassed” by inaccessible payment devices.

Some shops have buttonless touchscreen card readers, meaning you need sight to tap in your PIN.

They are increasingly popular because they are cheap and the screen can be used to advertise items at checkout.

Technical solutions exist for many machines and businesses could find themselves in court if they do not have them enabled.

Many blind people told the BBC’s Access All podcast they have had to tell their PIN to strangers so they can have it typed in for them, or be forced to leave their unpurchased items behind because they’re unable to pay.

Angharad, an accessibility expert from Wales who is blind, told Access All she will refuse an item when asked to use one of these machines.

She said giving her PIN out to a sales assistant, or even someone she’s with “feels like an invasion of privacy that other people just don’t have to do”.

Angharad is one of many listeners to the Access All podcast who got in touch with experiences of being unable to pay because of the machines’ inaccessibility.

Dave Williams from blindness charity RNIB, who also spoke to the podcast, said the devices are “increasingly used by, particularly, the small-to-medium-sized businesses because they’re very widely available”.

He points out that the RNIB and UK Finance, who regulate payment services such as card readers, developed accessibility solutions for this problem a few years ago.

“Some of the manufacturers have tactile templates that fit over the touchscreen. There are also accessibility modes on some devices which will offer some audio cues to help you,” he said.

However, blind consumers have told us retailers don’t appear to know about these options and point of sale problems still continue to frustrate.

Lawyer Chris Fry, who specialises in disability discrimination, said it’s not down to the manufacturers of the device, it’s the retailers themselves who could be in breach of the Equality Act.

“If I was instructed by somebody who then couldn’t access the service then we would be suing the business itself,” he said

Fry has been involved in several cases involving inaccessible card readers, and says that if a business offers to take cash as an alternative, that’s only a good solution if “handle correctly”.

“You should be told as a customer that your only option for payment is touchscreen so that you can make alternative arrangements.

“It’s no good getting to the counter after having done your shop and not knowing … how you’re going to pay, and then where the ATM is in order to go and pay.”

We contacted the Federation of Small Businesses about the issues being faced by blind users.

Their Policy Chair, Tina McKenzie said: “Digital payment systems which use touchscreen readers can be convenient for small retailers and for many customers who prefer to pay by card. But it’s absolutely vital for accessibility for blind and partially sighted people to be considered as well.

“Accessibility is a basic necessity, and with digital payment options continuing to evolve it should be at the forefront of card company and terminal manufacturers’ minds.”

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