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Accessible cash machines, soon money will talk

Emma Emma | 16:40 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A cash machine

Getting money out of a hole-in-the-wall machine has long been a problem for people who can't see the screen. Though other countries have had talking cashpoints for years, for some reason the technology never made it to the United Kingdom.

The usual solution is to add a headphone socket to the machine so a user can plug in their own pair and discretely listen to their details as they tap them in. For security reasons, the voice doesn't speak aloud your PIN code, you'll be pleased to hear.

The first public facing bank machine with speech was installed in Canada in 1997 and they are a regular feature in countries like Australia and India. The US even passed a specific law in March this year, which stipulates that one machine at every cashpoint location must be speech enabled.

Northern Ireland's Northern Bank introduced the first talking cashpoint to the UK in 2005. Fast forward seven years to 2012 however and there are only 85 of these machines dotted around the country.

Accessibility of machines, or lack of, has a significant impact on how blind and visually impaired people get their money.

Last year, as part of their Make Money Talk campaign, the Royal National Institute of Blind People asked 500 members about their banking experiences.

89 percent said that they never use cashpoints at all, instead opting for cashback services in shops, or withdrawing money over the counter at their local bank branch. As a fifth of all branches have closed between 1997 and 2010, this is becoming more difficult to do.

Of those surveyed who do attempt to access the hole in the wall, almost half said they find it difficult. Some stick to local machines which they know by heart. Often this means taking out more money than necessary, in case they don't manage to visit that particular machine again for some time. Others ask friends or even bystanders to help when visiting a cashpoint. This means sharing Pin numbers and other sensitive information.

One respondent said that a friend had stolen money from them in this way.

44 percent of respondents said that they would use talking cash machines should they become available so the recent news from two big banks should be welcome.

Lloyds Banking Group have pledged to replace all of their broken cashpoints with talking ones and have budget to make 1500 of them talk by the end of next year. They have committed to making every one of their seven thousand bank machines talk though there is no timeframe for this.

Barclays have gone a step further and promised to make 75 percent of their machines talk by close of 2012 and the remainder by the end of 2013.

Learn more about the state of play on tonight's In Touch programme, which includes an interview with Lloyd Adams from the British Bankers Association on why it has taken the UK so long to catch up.

In Touch can be heard tonight, at 8.40 PM on BBC Radio 4, and afterwards on iPlayer.

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