One of Canada’s largest banks is expanding its use of automatic teller machines that incorporate hardware and software to assist the visually impaired.

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) plans to introduce 225 to 250 of the so-called audio

ATMs at locations across Canada over the next six weeks. The kiosks are regular ATMs that have been equipped with a jack into which the blind or visually impaired will plug their personal headphones. Software will then issue audio prompts that guide them through their transactions with the bank machine. RBC installed the first audio ATM five years ago and slowly extended the pilot to 14 machines before deciding on a wide-scale rollout.

The expansion will involve both software and hardware improvements from NCR, which will be incorporated into future ATM models the company ships, according to NCR Canada vice-president of financial solutions Nicholas Hames. In the meantime, RBC and NCR will retrofit existing machines.

“”They’ll be doing them one at a time and they’re scheduling about 10 a day,”” said Jane Butler, RBC’s manager of the onsite ABM network. “”We will have full coverage across our network.””

Besides the visually impaired, Butler said the ATMs were proving useful to clients with low literacy rates and seniors who are not as comfortable using bank machines.

Client have the option of blanking out the screen while they’re going through the audio functions so that as they’re punching things in their data will be secure from prying eyes. Interested individuals can enroll to use the service, after which RBC will send them an instruction package in any of the print forms they ask for and a set of personal headsets, though common headsets used in Walkmans will also work. “”We have had quite a few people who aren’t our clients, but who frequent our ABMs, who have enrolled for headsets as well,”” Butler said.

Hames said NCR will use standards from the Canadian Standards Association to make the placement of the audio jack consistent on all the machines so users can easily find it — about waist-height. Software will recognize a visually impaired person as soon as the ATM accesses their account through the bank card. “”It’s getting to be standard unit item now,”” he said.

The audio ATMs in the pilot phase could only do withdrawals and

Deposits, but Butler said the newer versions can handle statement updates, a PIN change and any other type of regular functionality.

Hames said audio ATMs have not taken off in the United States as quickly as they have here.

“”We’ve done limited pilots, but Canada seems to be on the cusp of this,”” he said. “”We’ve done a lot of work in the UK, and from there a lot of work in Canada with the CNIB.””

The audio ATM expansion will begin with RBC’s main Toronto branch on Oct. 28.

–with files from Geoffrey Downey

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