Commonwealth EFTPOS down

A recent press release by the Digital Gap Initiative has highlighted the challenges faced by a blind woman trying to use the recently introduced ‘Albert’ EFTPOS tablet in a local doctors clinic. The issue relates to the interface, basically an app on an Android-based tablet displaying a visual keypad, but no tactile or audio feedback for the blind user, making it inaccessible. This article explores some of the technical issues behind Albert and what can be done to determine a practical solution.

The challenges of accessibility and security

In 2015 it may seem both logical and surprising that such an issue exists; logical that a tablet would be used as a way of inputting information, and surprising that it’s not accessible. Given the tablets provided by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) are based on Android, and the operating system has great accessibility features such as the TalkBack screen reader, it may seem odd that the device is inaccessible.

The main issue is security. While TalkBack could provide audio feedback and vibration through its Explore By Touch feature that would ensure a blind person could use the app, the issue is that any audio feedback would need to read aloud the PIN number as the user moved their finger onto the correct numbers, essentially broadcasting to the room the PIN number being entered. Unless headphones are provided (which is likely to be difficult in a fast-payment environment such as a department store), there’s no way to make use of the accessibity features due to security, rendering the device useless for people who are blind or have low vision.

In an interview conducted with Peter Greco on 5RPH discussing the difficulties, there has been some progress in finding a solution, but not to the satisfaction of people who are blind. The current proposed solution operates similar to the Talking Dialer app available from Google’s Project Eyes-Free. The idea is that whenever you put your finger on the screen it represents the number ‘5’, and you then select other numbers by navigating from there (e.g. slightly left is 4, slightly up is 2, and slightly down is 8 and so on). However, unlike this app, there is still no opportunity with Albert to receive audio feedback, making it very difficult to determine if the correct number has been selected. While this has been CBA’s suggested solution, there is no word yet as to whether it will be rolled out.

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