Banking on talking ATMs to assist the blind

Mr Chong Kwek Bin, 34, who is partially blind, tries out one of POSB's new Talking ATMs at Esplanade Exchange on Jan 12, 2016.
Mr Chong Kwek Bin, 34, who is partially blind, tries out one of POSB's new Talking ATMs at Esplanade Exchange on Jan 12, 2016.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
The new ATMs come with enhanced Braille features and instructions.
The new ATMs come with enhanced Braille features and instructions.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Visually impaired users simply need to plug in a set of earphones to hear the audio guidance.
Visually impaired users simply need to plug in a set of earphones to hear the audio guidance.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
POSB head Derrick Goh and Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin trying out a Talking ATM.
POSB head Derrick Goh and Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin trying out a Talking ATM.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE- People who are visually handicapped can withdraw cash from machines without help but it's not always ideal.

"We usually follow routine steps to withdraw money," said Mr Tan Wee Liam, 57, who is partially blind and works as a Braille transcriber. "So if there are problems, like if the ATM is short on cash, we won't know what has gone wrong. We have to ask the person behind us for help."

He and others will find the process friendlier now that POSB has launched 86 POSB Talking ATMs islandwide, the first time a bank has done so here on such a scale.

The ATMs, designed in partnership with the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), are enhanced with user friendly functions for the blind, such as Braille instructions and audio guidance.

The user simply has to plug his or her earphones into the ATM's audiojack to hear it.

Mr Tan said he was "very appreciative" of such an initiative. He added that it was no trouble to have to bring his own earphones.

The talking ATMs will help not only the blind but also elderly users, some of whom suffer from failing eyesight, said Mr Jeremy Soo, Head of DBS' Consumer Banking Group (Singapore).

Most of POSB's talking ATMs are located at MRT stations - Bishan, Dhoby Ghaut and Bugis, to name a few - to ensure easy access.

Voice instructions are currently only in English and there are just two functions, withdrawing cash or checking the balance.

But there may be plans to include more languages or functions in the future, depending on feedback from users.

Minister for Social and Family Development and guest of honour at the launch, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, said that in addition to efforts by the government, "Businesses can and should take more initiative in making their services more accessible to persons with disabilities... this collaboration (between POSB and SAVH) provides a good example of what I hope our businesses can do."

sheryll@sph.com.sg