Accessible Kiosks: The What, Why, and How

August 14, 2020

Imagine how often we use kiosks. It’s probably more than you think: To order and pay at restaurants; to print airline tickets at an airport; to take money from an ATM; to check in at a doctor’s office or a hotel; to check out at a grocery store; to rent a car; and, at times, to vote in elections and access government services.

Kiosk usage has grown exponentially since new technologies ushered in the self-service era. We depend on them for everyday tasks and sometimes to exercise our most basic rights, which is why it’s so important that they’re accessible to people with disabilities.

Time well spent, money well saved

Creating accessible kiosks is the right thing to do; not just morally or civically, it’s also good business sense. Businesses can save time, money, and reach a larger consumer base when they provide accessible kiosks. Lawsuits are costly, but beyond that, when self-service is accessible, businesses expand their reach to people with disabilities and save money by not having to by provide additional assistance to customers.

For example, if customers with disabilities can’t access their money from an ATM or order food from a restaurant, they must spend additional time interacting with staff to complete transactions, time that could be better spent bringing in more customers. Digitally accessible kiosks don’t actually cost more for companies. They save time and money in the long run.

Problems persist, and so do lawsuits

Back in 2014, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired won $2 million in damages and fees in a settlement with Redbox Automated Retail LLC, the DVD rental kiosk, after two long years of litigation. The ruling required Redbox to install features that enable blind customers to use their kiosks independently, including audio guidance technology, a tactile keypad, and 24-hour telephone assistance, along with paying $85,000 to Lighthouse to test the kiosks and other fees.

Despite hefty lawsuits like this one, problems persist, and so do the lawsuits. Major household names in the last few years have been subject to suits due to inaccessibility, from drink dispensers to checkout kiosks.

As many industries move toward self-service technology, they can reduce the risk of litigation if they incorporate digital accessibility requirements from the start.

A few considerations for accessible kiosks

  1. Vision considerations: Kiosks are usually standalone objects that use iPads or tablets to enable transactions. This technology is often touchscreen only, a subject of many of the lawsuits filed. To accommodate people who are blind and visually impaired, devices should include speech-output for all text onscreen and Braille instructions for initiating speech mode. Tactile buttons as well as screen magnification can also help navigate a digital environment.
  2. Hearing considerations: Kiosks that deliver sound should include adjustable volume controls. However, one particularly innovative digital solution developed by kiosk provider Juke Slot is an Android-based self-ordering kiosk. It provides a virtual avatar that can communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing in American Sign Language.
  3. Physical considerations: Kiosks often contain swiveling mounts or adjustable heights that can help accommodate some users’ physical requirements, but their placement is also important. The path to a kiosks as well as their vertical and horizontal reach should be considered for wheelchair users and others with differing physical needs. Users should be able to maneuver at least one mode of operation with one hand and use buttons or controls that don’t require much force, such as grasping, pinching, or twisting.
  4. Digital accessibility considerations: It’s important to test the digital accessibility of your kiosks. If kiosk applications aren’t built with accessibility in mind, it may be difficult to navigate them with assistive technology or access them at all. However, it’s never too late to modify software to include accessibility features.

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