CUNA Comment Letter

CUNA Letter to Architectural Transportation Barriers and Compliance Board on Talking ATMs

May 15, 2000

Office of Technical and Information Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000 Washington, D.C. 20004-1111

Dear Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board:

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) appreciates the opportunity to respond to your requests for comments on ways to eliminate barriers to and promote access for buildings and facilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA). The original notice appeared in the Federal Register on November 16, 1999 and was republished on March 9, 2000. CUNA represents more than 90 percent of the approximately 10,600 state and federal credit unions in the nation and has solicited the opinions of credit unions on these issues. CUNA has also solicited comments from its Payments System Subcommittee and a well-known manufacturer of ATMs.

CUNA strongly supports consumer protections, including those in the ADA. However, the costs of the additional consumer protections must be balanced with the costs of the efforts to produce the additional protections. We are deeply concerned that the costs and technical difficulty associated with compliance make this proposal unfeasible at this time.


The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) is proposing changes to require that ATMs provide audio responses through a handset or headset. In particular, ATMs would be required to provide audible instructions, audible verification of data from the member, and audible receipts.

Under the law, existing facilities may have to be modified or retrofitted. The law provides that existing barriers must be removed if "readily achievable" and aids must be added if these additions are not an "undue burden." Whether existing ATMs would have to be converted into talking ATMs would depend on whether the conversion was considered readily achievable or an undue burden. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis.

To help the visually impaired, the proposal would mandate other requirements related to key surfaces, location of numeric keys, markings, arrangements, color-coding of function keys, and video display screen placement and character fonts. The new rules would include the following:



The difficulty of implementing this proposal can be better understood with an overview of the structure of an ATM. An ATM system consists of the following components:

The complexity of ATM machines would make the cost of retrofitting existing machines to meet these new requirements exorbitant. According to a manufacturer of ATMs, for the newest machine to add voice guidance three things would have to be added:

According to this manufacturer, the hardware and software provided by it do not provide ATM screen graphics, screen content, and screen flows. Therefore, the credit union would have to design and deploy ATM screen graphics, screen content and loads for their ATM system. In addition, the credit union would have to create voice files for each screen and for all screen content that it has on the ATM. Therefore, given the highly customized nature of screen content, each financial institution would have to create customized voice files relative to its screen content. It would be impossible for any financial institution to buy a ready-made voice filing system. As a result, revamping an existing ATM to make it talk would require software, hardware and specific individual, custom touches that would be prohibitively expensive as well as time consuming.

Moreover, it would be impossible to retrofit some existing ATMs to meet the new technological specifications. For example, according to an ATM manufacturer, some inexpensive ATMs, which cost $7,000 to $13,000, that are used in stores as cash dispensers cannot be retrofitted for voice guidance. In addition, off-line ATM systems could not be retrofitted. If an ATM is off-line, the ATM records each transaction on a tape, and a courier transfers the tape each day to the financial institution for processing. Thus, this type of ATM could not provide audio verification of balance or receipt information.


As a case in point, one large credit union, with over 200 ATMs, stated that upgrading many (approximately 130) of its existing machines to include the required hardware and software for audible information and the new keyboard would be approximately $18,000 per machine. According to the credit union, approximately 30 of its 200 ATMs would have to be completely replaced because they could not be retrofitted. For some newer ATMs, adding audio capability to them would require hardware and software that would cost at least $2,000 each, and this figure does not include any changes to the software that drives the ATMs and its customized communication lines mentioned above. Therefore, for the newest ATMs adding voice guidance, CUNA believes that quoted industry estimates of $10,000 per ATM provide a rough estimate of the costs.

This credit union expressed its concern that the cost of implementing this proposal would reduce the number of ATMs it owns because some could not be retrofitted and reduce the number of new ATMs it installs because the greater expenses would leave fewer funds for installation. This proposal would reduce the credit union's ability to add ATM upgrades and other technological services.

CUNA believes that the cost of this proposal would have significant impact on credit unions' deployment of ATMs nationwide. In 1998, 22 percent of credit unions offered ATM machines and 15 percent of credit unions were planning to add them. In particular, significant numbers of medium size credit unions planned to add ATM machines because most larger credit unions (those with more than $50 million in assets) already offer ATMs. According to a survey conducted by CUNA & Affiliates, 48 percent of credit unions with $20 million to $50 million in assets offered ATMs; and 18 percent of credit unions with $10 million to $20 million in assets offered ATMs. Among credit unions with $10 million to $50 million, one in five planned to offer ATMs in the following year. Please see the chart below on provision of ATM service across the credit union industry.

Credit Union Assets % Now Offering % Plan to offer
Next Year
Less than $2 million 0 0
$2 Million to $5 million 3 4
$5 million to $10 million 9 4
$10 million to $20 million 18 19
$20 million to $50 million 48 19
$50 million to $ 100 million 87 6
$100 million to $200 million 97 2
$200 million or more 100 0

The cost to implement this proposal, however, may significantly discourage the medium size credit unions and other credit unions that want to deploy ATMs.

For instance, credit unions with $10 to $20 million in assets, on average estimated that they would spend $20,362 on their entire technology budget. Credit unions with $20 million to $50 million in assets on average estimated that they would spend $39,344 on their entire technology budget. The estimated average for these credit unions was what they planned to spend on 30 different technologies over the course of a year. As mentioned above, the cost to buy a new machine and add voice guidance would be roughly $10,000, at a minimum, depending on the sophistication of the ATM. The lowest cost machine that credit unions and others currently use that is capable of being equipped with voice guidance technology is a $20,000 machine, according to an ATM manufacturer. This proposal raises the cost of a low-end ATM, which cannot accept deposits, by fifty percent. This price increase would reduce the number of new ATMs that medium size credit unions and other financial institutions could deploy in the future, which would reduce the number of ATMs overall.

The expensive nature of this proposal would also initiate several unintended, adverse effects. Financial institutions pay a high, fixed-cost for ATMs, as a result, in order to recapture their money they depend on a high volume of transactions and, at times, surcharges to recoup this expense and the cost of maintenance. The new higher prices to retrofit and upgrade equipment may force some financial institutions that maintain ATMs with low usage to eliminate the ATM. This may force the closure of ATMs in remote, rural areas or low-to-moderate income areas. The higher cost for new ATMs and retrofitting or replacing parts in old ATMs with new technology may force financial institutions to raise surcharges. In addition, some financial institutions may even be forced to reduce the number of ATMs currently in use. For instance, if retrofitting is required, some ATMs will have to be eliminated because they cannot be upgraded with voice capability or because the financial institution cannot afford the expensive technology.

For all the above reasons, CUNA believes that this proposal is too costly and technically impractical to mandate. As stated above, this proposal would have adverse consequences that would reduce ATM availability, and therefore, ATM access for the entire population. As a result, a proposal that sought to give more access to the visually impaired may give them less access to ATMs.

CUNA recommends that if some version of this rule is adopted that no retrofitting should be required because the expense and technical complications mean that removal of the barriers are not readily achievable. The ADA provides that retrofitting is only required when removal is "readily achievable", which is defined as "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense."
ADA § 301(9). The following factors are weighed: the nature and cost of the action; the financial resources of the affected facility; the impact on the affected facility; and the resources, size and operation of the covered entity. Clearly, these technical changes are difficult and expensive for credit unions, because of the nature and cost. Any proposed rule should clearly specify that retrofitting is not required.

The Access Board also seeks comments on whether credit unions intend to provide receivers for accessing audible output. If this technology is required, CUNA and credit unions do not believe that financial institutions should be responsible for supplying audio output receivers. Providing receivers would make the receivers targets for vandalism and theft. If financial institutions were constantly responsible for replacing these receivers, this would add to the cost of maintenance and upkeep for ATMs. Members who need receivers should be responsible for bringing their own handsest, just as all members are responsible for bringing their access card.

CUNA does not believe that users should be able to extend the maximum time intervals between transactions beyond the amount of time that is typically allotted. This would reduce convenience for all members by extending lines; adding waits; and discouraging use of the machines. Ultimately, it may reduce the number of transactions that an ATM could handle.

In response to your other questions, the redeployment of ATMs by credit unions is infrequent. According to the credit unions that responded to CUNA, credit unions have redeployed ATMs infrequently in the past five years. In addition, because ATMs are created so that they can be upgraded, many ATMs are currently around that were first installed more than 10 years ago.

In conclusion, CUNA supports the ADA, but recommends that this proposal be eliminated as written. If some version of this proposal is adopted then it must include the following suggestions to minimize a reduction in ATM services:

CUNA is aware that the ADA mandates that visually impaired people should be able to use an ATM independently. CUNA supports the current efforts to assist the visually impaired with financial services. Currently, many credit unions use Braille and Braille keypads to make ATMs accessible to the visually impaired. We are aware that there are concerns that only a minority of the blind can use Braille, and so CUNA supports continued work to find better solutions to contribute to the independence of the visually impaired. Due to the technical impracticality and costs of this proposal, however, we recommend that the Access Board wait to implement a solution that will not reduce ATM access for all.


Michelle Profit
Assistant General Counsel