Why Do Drive-Up ATMs Have Braille on the Buttons?


This question was submitted by reader Lindsey. It also may have been part of a Starburst advertising campaign in the late-1990s.

ATM image via Shutterstock

So the visually impaired can use them, of course. People who are totally blind or severely visually impaired normally don't drive, but they might have a friend drive them around to run errands, or take a cab. If a blind person is a passenger in a car, they ought to be able to take advantage of the convenience of the drive-up ATM, too.

That's why the Americans with Disabilities Act's Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities require the "instructions and all information for use" of ATMs, whether they're walk-up or drive-up, "be made accessible to and independently usable by persons with vision impairments," and that the machines provide the visually impaired with the "same degree of privacy of input and output available to all individuals." Braille on the drive-up ATM complies with the law and allows a visually impaired person who might be in the back seat to use the machine just like a sighted person — independently and privately.

How would a blind person use an ATM in the first place, though, if they couldn't see the on-screen instructions?

You'll notice that language about accessibility and usability in the ADA guidelines is pretty vague. Braille keypads are an obvious part of accessibility, but when the guidelines were written, neither the banks nor the government really knew what else to do to make the machines blind-user-friendly. Eventually, the banks, the feds and the ATM manufacturers all agreed to leave the rules a little hazy until they could figure something out.

The two solutions most ATMs employ today are either a large block of braille that provide a user with instructions for completing transactions that they must follow very carefully (and hope that the instructions get updated along with the machine's software), or a headphone jack (marked with braille) that provides a user with an audio equivalent of the on-screen prompts.