Self-service kiosks are changing the way we do business. Making sure that kiosks comply with accessibility rules ensures that all visitors are able to take advantage of the services offered, while also deterring potential lawsuits.
It’s a given that when an organization incorporates self-service kiosks into their offerings, they’re doing so to make their operation more efficient and improve the experience for the people they serve.
To achieve the maximum benefit from a kiosk, though, it’s critical for those devices to be accessible by each and every user. That can mean becoming aware of issues not previously considered.
One of the main concerns when embarking on a kiosk project is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 1 The ADA, which became law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including facilities open to the general public. The law is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
With ADA lawsuits on the rise and the cost of such suits potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, it’s clearly in a deployer’s best interest to take the steps necessary to ensure their kiosks are compliant with ADA regulations.
And ultimately, making sure a business’s kiosks can accommodate all users isn’t just the law, it’s the right thing to do.
Navigating muddy waters
A major challenge with making a kiosk ADA compliant has been that until very recently, the guidelines for doing so were vague at best.
In addition, when it came to accommodating the disabled, most specific ADA regulations (and thus many deployers’ efforts) focused primarily on individuals in wheelchairs. While that may be a laudable effort, of the estimated 57 million people in the United States who have some form of disability only about 4 percent, or 2.2 million, use a wheelchair. That leaves nearly 54 million people who may be underserved by a kiosk that’s not fully compliant with the spirit of the ADA —and nearly 54 million potential plaintiffs for ADA lawsuits.
Those neglected areas are exactly the ones that have been targeted in recent lawsuits. In July 2016, for example, the National Federation of the Blind sued New York City and the operator of its LinkNYC kiosks, saying the devices lacked features such as braille and audio cues to accommodate vision-impaired users. 2 As part of a settlement deal the city agreed to add those features to existing kiosks and include them in new ones.
More recently, in March 2017, the American Council of the Blind filed a lawsuit in New York against fast casual restaurant chain Eatsa on behalf of blind customer Michael Godino, who claimed he was unable to use a self-order kiosk in the restaurant because the kiosks weren’t accessible for blind customers. 3
And to dispel any notion that having an employee on hand to assist disabled customers will serve as protection against a lawsuit, every Eatsa location was already staffed with a host whose duty it was to provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers.
Covering the bases: ADA & physical requirements
While it is clear that meeting the physical reach requirements for a kiosk will not ensure accessibility for all users, these sections of the ADA regulations must be followed to ensure a kiosk deployment is ADA compliant. Litigation based on ADA reach requirements is currently more straightforward (and thus more likely to be successful) as these physical measurements are clearly defined and can be easily confirmed by any visitor to the kiosk.
ADA standards when it comes to physical kiosk accessibility include: 4
Forward reach limits
- If a kiosk can be accessed via a forward reach and is unobstructed, the maximum height of the touch screen is 48 inches and the minimum height of the touch screen is 15 inches.
- If there is an obstruction in front of a kiosk (such as a countertop) and the depth of the obstruction is 20 inches or less, the maximum height of the touch screen is 48 inches. The floor must be clear underneath the obstruction at an equal or greater depth.
- If the obstruction exceeds 20 inches, the maximum height of the touch screen is 44 inches and the maximum depth of the obstruction is 25 inches. The floor must be clear underneath the obstruction at an equal or greater depth.
Side reach limits
- If a kiosk is only accessible via a parallel approach and the side reach is unobstructed, the maximum height of the touch screen is 48 inches and the minimum height is 15 inches.
- If there is an obstruction (such as a countertop) in front of a kiosk and the obstruction depth is 10 inches or less, the maximum height of the obstruction is 34 inches and the maximum height of the touch screen is 48 inches.
- If the obstruction depth exceeds 10 inches, the maximum depth of the obstruction is 24 inches, the maximum height of the obstruction is 34 inches and the maximum height of the touchscreen is 46 inches.
If your kiosk has peripherals such as a printer, the lowest allowable height of that peripheral is 15 inches.
If your kiosk is wall-mounted and has nothing below it to alert someone with visual impairments navigating with a cane to its presence, it can have a maximum depth of 4 inches from the wall, a minimum height of 27 inches and a maximum height of 80 inches.
Floor space requirements
It is the responsibility of the kiosk owner to provide adequate floor space around the kiosk to accommodate wheelchair users. Floor space requirements are outlined in their own section of the ADA website.
Functionality-based requirements: Access Board rules
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers and Compliance Board, also know as the Access Board, is an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. 5 In September 2017, as part of an effort to add clarity to the steps kiosk deployers must take to accommodate disabled users, the Access Board released a final rule for electronic and information technologies used by federal agencies, as well as guidelines for customer premises equipment and telecommunications equipment, including kiosks. 6
Access Board rules for kiosk accessibility fall into two categories: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is specific to federal agencies, and Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934, which covers public deployment of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment such as kiosks by any manufacturer or service provider.
According to the Access Board, compliance with the Section 508-based standards is not required until Jan. 18, 2018, while compliance with Section 255-based guidelines is not required until the guidelines are adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, which has exclusive authority to enforce these regulations. When that may happen is not yet clear.
Section 255 includes the caveat that telecommunications equipment and services must be accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities “where readily achievable.” Under the relevant statute, “readily achievable” is defined as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”
The FCC’s own website states clearly that “companies that have great resources will need to do more to achieve access than companies with smaller budgets.” 7 Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute expands on this idea, indicating that factors to be considered in determining whether compliance is readily achievable include the nature and cost of the action needed and the overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved, although making that decision is best done with the advice of an attorney. 8 Here are some of the standards set out in the Access Board’s 2017 guidelines:
- In general, devices with a display screen shall be speech-output enabled for full and independent use by individuals with vision impairments.
- Speech output shall be provided for all information displayed on-screen.
- Where transactional outputs are provided, the speech output shall audibly provide all information necessary to verify a transaction.
- Speech output shall be delivered through a mechanism that is readily available to all users, including, but not limited to, an industry standard connector or a telephone handset. Speech shall be recorded or digitized human, or synthesized. Speech output shall be coordinated with information displayed on the screen.
- Where speech output is required, braille instructions for initiating the speech mode of operation shall be provided.
- Devices that deliver sound, including required speech output, shall provide volume control and output amplification.
- At least one mode of characters displayed on the screen shall be in a sans serif font. Where ICT does not provide a screen enlargement feature, characters shall be 3/16 inch (4.8 mm) high minimum based on the uppercase letter “I”. Characters shall contrast with their background with either light characters on a dark background or dark characters on a light background.
- At least one mode of operation shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, these standards are meant to provide a general overview of the regulations of which a deployer should be aware when it comes to ensuring their kiosks are accessible to all visitors.
Be aware that other regulations may also apply in certain areas or industries (for example, airline kiosks must comply with additional rules put in place by the Department of Transportation). 9
At the end of the day, the best step deployers can take to make sure their kiosks are accessible and meet current requirements is to work with a kiosk provider and/or a legal team experienced in such matters.