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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Firms' link up makes money talk
By Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Photo of someone using the Opteva ATM using headphones
Blind people use headphones to hear the speech
America's largest cash point maker has joined forces with assistive technology firm, Scansoft, to produce talking cash dispensers for use by blind people.

As well as having 60% of the US market, Diebold is the second largest cash point (ATM) provider in Europe.

The company is using Scansoft's text to speech technology to improve the accessibility of its cash dispensers.

The latest Opteva ATMs were also developed with the assistance of an American association of blind people.

Security concerns about having audio output from the machines have been overcome by fitting them with a standard headphone jack.

Visually impaired customers have to use their own headphones in order to hear the voice output.

"The Opteva machine works very well - we find it very intuitive," said Ann Taylor, access technology director of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

She says NFB members are in the process of conducting a formal evaluation of the new machines.

"We haven't gathered the data yet, but from what I've seen it's very workable and very clear."

The NFB was also consulted at the design stage and had some influence in the final layout of the ATM.

"There's a consistent user interface - card reader, receipt printer and money dispenser are all in the same general location," explained Diebold product planning director, Dean Stewart.

Although the company has been using voice guidance for some time, the link with Scansoft enables full text to speech output in up to six languages.

Photo of Opteva ATM
Diebold insists on a consistent layout for its ATMs

Previously, a number of computer files - in WAV format - had to be pre-loaded onto the machine which made it much less flexible.

"We wanted a higher quality solution, and one that the NFB would approve," said Diebold marketing manager, Cindy Daugherty.

"We choose Scansoft as our partner because they had the best solution, especially given the selection of languages."

The need for speech output in the USA is largely driven by legislation that requires companies to make their service as accessible as possible.

Although the Opteva ATMs that have been shipped to Europe are all "speech capable", Ms Daugherty was unable to say whether any of the institutions operating them would make use of the facility.

And according to Ann Taylor of the NFB, the problem for American customers is to know which type of ATM they are using.

Knowing which bank operates the cash dispenser can help, but even some ATMs with headphone sockets do not have the speech facility enabled.

"This is something we need to change," she said.

Even so, Ms Taylor believes that enabling visually impaired people to be able to conduct their transactions without the aid of a sighted person is a significant step forward.

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