The accessibility of electronic payment terminals: a summary

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

The following summary provides an overview of the outcomes of this project. It is not a legal document and it is not intended for use in interpreting the legal responsibility or authority of any organization or entity. For a copy of the full report, please email the Accessible Canada Directorate.

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List of acronyms

AODA
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
ESDC
Employment and Social Development Canada
ASC
Accessibility Standards Canada
PIN
Personal Identification Number
EPT
Electronic Payment Terminal

Definitions

Barrier
Anything that prevents persons with disabilities from fully participating in society.

Disability
Includes any physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment - or any functional limitation, whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature.

Hardware
The visible internal and external physical components of a computer or electronic device.

Regulations
Regulations are rules made by authorities, like the government. They control the way people and organizations do things. When made under the Accessible Canada Act, they provide details on how to follow that law.

Software
The programs or operating systems used by a computer or electronic device.

Standards
Standards are voluntary instructions that help guide organizations to be consistent in the way they do things. Organizations may choose to follow them to meet customer or industry demands.

Introduction

To build a more accessible, inclusive and barrier-free Canada, the Government of Canada invested $500,000 to improve the accessibility of Electronic Payment Terminals (EPT). Improving the accessibility of these devices will help persons with disabilities buy goods and services independently and securely.

This summary provides an overview of the work undertaken by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to make EPTs more accessible. This work includes:

  • creating a working group
  • undertaking research, and
  • writing a report to raise awareness and find ways to remove barriers to accessibility

What are electronic payment terminals

An EPT is the hand-held device that customers use to pay for goods or services. Customers typically complete payments by:

  • inserting a debit or credit card into, or tapping their card on top of an EPT, and
  • entering their password or Personal Identification Number (PIN)

For example, EPTs are the devices sitting at the checkout or service counter you use to pay for your:

  • groceries in a grocery store, or
  • tickets to see a movie in a theatre

You can also find many other EPTs wherever you need to make a purchase. For example, when you eat at a restaurant, the server may bring the EPT to your table for you to pay the bill. If you are traveling by taxi, the driver may hand you an EPT for you to use to pay for your fare.

Developing a working group

For this project, ESDC created a working group to:

  • identify and develop a common understanding of barriers persons with disabilities experience while using EPTs, and
  • offer suggestions for making EPTs more accessible and easier to use

In keeping with the principle of “nothing without us,” the working group included members from the disability community and representatives from public and private sector organizations, including:

  • banks
  • credit card companies
  • EPT developers
  • service providers, and
  • federal government organizations

Why EPTs are difficult to use

EPTs are one of the everyday devices that persons with disabilities could find difficult to use because they are not accessible. For example, persons with physical disabilities may have difficulty reaching an EPT if it sits too high or too far from the edge of a counter. If an EPT is too large or heavy, it may also be hard to hold while inserting a payment card or entering a PIN.

For persons with visual disabilities, touch screens and the lack of tactile markings make it difficult to enter their PIN or complete purchases. The lack of clear voice instructions may also make purchases difficult or confusing for persons with visual disabilities.

Another problem is that many models of EPTs don’t look or work the same way as others. Persons with cognitive or intellectual impairments may also have difficulty understanding complex instructions or memorizing steps to complete transactions. Different EPT models can also cause confusion and stress for the customer, which may result in payment errors.

Like most of us, persons with disabilities can also feel pressure to complete their purchases quickly when other customers are waiting in line. This pressure may cause customers to make a mistake while entering their PIN, causing them to repeat the payment process over again. As a result, this experience may turn a purchase into a bad experience. Each time persons with disabilities use EPTs, these barriers can add up to a series of bad experiences.

To avoid this, persons with disabilities may feel like they need to ask family members, caregivers, employees or even strangers to help them complete their purchase. By sharing their personal information, like their PIN, persons with disabilities at greater risk of theft and fraud.

Current laws, regulations and standards that apply to EPTs

Improving the accessibility of EPTs requires action from all levels of government and industries in the public and private sectors. Each of these areas have a specific role to play to make sure persons with disabilities can complete transactions independently and with confidence.

1. Federal laws and regulations

At the federal level, the Accessible Canada Act allows for the development of regulations that could support improving of the accessibility of EPTs used in Canada. One way to do this is through the Accessibility Standards Canada (ASC), an organization with the power to develop standards for accessible EPTs.

Once developed, the Minister responsible for accessibility could introduce these standards into regulations. Once added, all federally regulated organizations that use EPTs would have to use these standards.

Future regulations under the Accessible Canada Act could also help remove common EPT accessibility barriers. For example:

  • regulations for the built environment could limit the height of service counters in federal buildings
    • by lowering the height of service counters, these regulations would remove a common barrier by allowing EPTs to be within arms reach
  • regulations for communications could also improve the accessibility of information provided by EPTs, making them more user-friendly
    • this could include making instructions displayed to clients on an EPT larger and easier to understand. Doing so will help improve how people interact with EPTs to complete transactions

Once included into regulations, standards could improve the accessibility of EPTs in airports or government service locations like Service Canada centres.

2. Provincial laws and regulations

Several provinces have developed their own accessibility laws. One example of this includes the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This law recognizes the need for accessible EPTs in Ontario. Regulations under the AODA include customer service standards that call for organizations to remove barriers so that persons with disabilities can access:

  • goods
  • services, and
  • facilities

This customer service standard does not create specific accessibility requirements for EPTs. However, AODA regulations require the Government of Ontario and some public sector organizations to:

  • include accessibility features when designing or purchasing self-service kiosks
  • consider the needs of persons with disabilities when designing or purchasing self-service kiosks

AODA regulations would apply to EPTs in restaurants, taxis and movie theatres, or government service locations like Service Ontario centres.

Other Canadian provinces with similar accessibility laws include Quebec, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia. However, these provinces have not yet developed requirements to improve the accessibility of EPTs.

For example, Manitoba’s Accessibility for Manitobans Act has a similar customer service standard regulation to Ontario. While Manitoba’s regulation does not mention EPTs, it does include:

  • removing barriers in the built environment
  • providing feedback, documentation, and training for staff

3. Existing standards related to EPTs

Standards are voluntary, which means organizations may choose whether or not to follow them. Standards can cover a wide range of subjects like the manufacture of a particular product or outline procedures for a particular process. Standards can also be:

  • international
  • national
  • federal
  • provincial
  • territorial, or
  • apply to other more specific sectors and regions

For example, the Canadian Standards Association has made standards for automatic banking machines and self-service interactive devices.

These voluntary standards include devices like self-service checkouts or ticket kiosks. However, they don’t include accessibility features or measures that would ensure persons with disabilities can use these devices safely or independently.

To remove all barriers to accessibility, it is important to also identify and deal with barriers that exist beyond the EPT itself. To do this, future EPT standards should look at other important aspects, like the physical space where EPTs are located within the retail environment. For example, this could include:

  • lowering the height of service and checkout counters, and
  • making sure that persons with mobility devices can sit comfortably facing directly towards the EPT

How current and future technology affect the accessibility of EPTs

1. Hardware

There are many differences between individual EPTs, including:

  • appearance
  • size
  • shape
  • weight, and
  • layout (button and screen placement)

EPT models may also have multiple user settings and payment options. For example, most new EPTs accept wireless tap, while older EPTs may still only accept credit and debit cards with a magnetic stripe or a chip and PIN.

As EPTs change, they may exclude important things that persons with disabilities need to complete their purchase safely and independently. For example, touchscreens create barriers for persons with visual disabilities. The lack of volume control functions also make EPTs less accessible for persons who are hard of hearing.

There are also concerns with the use of biometric technology to pay for goods or services. This technology uses your physical features, like your face or fingerprint, to verify your identity before authorizing your purchase. While many customers use this technology, it can also create barriers for persons with disabilities.

For example, using fingerprint verification to make purchases may not work for:

  • amputees
  • persons with congenital disabilities
  • persons with difficulty moving their upper limbs and fingers

There are also privacy and safety concerns with this technology. For example, the data collected to verify a customer’s identity could include sensitive data about their disability.

To prevent new barriers, EPTs should include a range of payment options. This will help customers make sure they can choose their preferred method of payment to pay for goods or services.

2. Software

When customers use EPTs, the software provides the necessary instructions to help them complete the payment process. Since the software gives specific instructions that are unique to each business, the way customers use EPTs can vary from one place to another. This difference is a common accessibility barrier for persons with cognitive or intellectual impairments, and persons with visual disabilities.

For example, EPTs in restaurants usually have software to help the customer calculate and enter a tip. Sometimes this process requires customers choose a percentage at one restaurant or enter a specific amount at another.

For persons who are blind, they may not notice this difference if the EPT doesn’t include spoken instructions. For people who can’t read, they may rely on learning the necessary buttons to complete the payment process. When these instructions change, it can be difficult for them to learn or remember new steps.

Some EPTs also use complex instructions with small text or low colour contrast. This can make it harder for persons with vision loss to make purchases independently if they require someone else to verify their total.

3. Merchant and retail environment

The Canadian retail sector includes:

  • food and beverage stores
  • health and personal care stores
  • electronics and appliance stores
  • motor vehicle and parts dealers
  • furniture and home furnishing stores
  • clothing and clothing accessories stores
  • building and garden material, equipment, and supplies dealers

Big businesses may have many service and checkout counters, each with their own EPT. Small businesses may have just one service or checkout counter and EPT. For most businesses, this means purchasing and using new EPTs can be expensive.

For example, the cost for small EPTs is between $200 and $800 per device and have an average lifespan of 3 to 5 years. Self-service kiosks can cost up to $75,000 per unit and last around 7 to 19 years.

There are also some additional costs for businesses when they want to replace EPTs. These could include:

  • renovations to create more space at the service or checkout counter
  • upgrading payment software, and
  • training employees on how to use the new terminals

Businesses are also adapting to changing payment technology. While most Canadians continue to use debit or credit cards to make purchases, some businesses are now using payment systems that do not use:

  • service or checkout counters
  • self-checkouts
  • cashiers, or
  • EPTs

For example, Amazon introduced the first cashier-less store, Amazon Go, in 2018. Amazon Go does not include traditional checkout counters or EPTs. Amazon has since expanded to 26 stores in major US cities. This transition by Amazon shows how fast technology is changing the way we buy things and how quickly EPTs can become outdated.

For many businesses, this is why it may be difficult to replace EPTs. Not only can replacing these devices be expensive, new technology can make EPTs obsolete even before they reach the end of their lifecycle.

Areas of action for improving the accessibility of EPTs

Improving the accessibility of EPTs is more than just replacing devices. Real change requires public and private sectors to work together with persons with disabilities to create a fully accessible payment experience.

To do this, the working group highlighted 4 key areas of action:

1. Raise awareness of accessibility barriers

As a first step, it is important to raise awareness of the accessibility barriers that persons with disabilities experience while making purchases. An awareness campaign will help businesses recognize and take action to remove these barriers.

The following actions could support education and training practices for businesses:

  • training staff on how to use accessible EPTs and other assistive technologies designed for service or checkout counters and the larger retail environment
  • creating EPT training based on feedback from clients and employees with disabilities
  • promoting existing material, such as the Retail Council of Canada’s training modules and webinars on accessible customer service, which address the use of EPTs

It is also important to create training for persons with disabilities on how to use EPTs and their accessibility features when making purchases. As technology changes, it will be important to update these materials regularly so that they are accurate and relevant.

Creating and improving these educational tools will help remove accessibility barriers, which is a win-win for both persons with disabilities and for businesses. Removing accessibility barriers will help businesses attract more customers and improve the financial security and independence of persons with disabilities.

Businesses could also work to identify and implement other accessibility measures that meet the needs of clients with other disabilities. Some of these could include:

  • make sure that EPTs are within reach and secured to the counter with an adjustable mount
  • identify and remove social barriers that limit or interfere with the customer’s ability to confidently or safely use EPTs
    • for example, this could include training employees to address attitudinal barriers and how they serve persons with disabilities
  • introduce other accessibility measures at the checkout, including:
    • making sure information products, like EPT user guides, are readily available to customers in alternative and accessible formats like large print or braille
    • making sure the text displayed on an EPT and the spoken instructions use plain language to help customers complete their purchase

2. Make accessibility standards

Standards would help remove barriers associated with EPT devices, wherever customers use them. They would also help make sure new technologies don’t create extra barriers for persons with disabilities. Possible standards for developing accessible EPTs could include:

  • best practices for EPT designers and manufacturers to follow when developing accessible EPTs
    • these standards could also be used as a guide for businesses when choosing a new EPT device
  • performance standards that require simple, easy to understand instructions for completing purchases using an EPT
    • this includes how customers enter a tip or their PIN
  • standards to make EPT functions and design elements consistent for all EPTs
    • this would help make sure EPTs look and function the same, reducing confusion when customers complete purchases at different businesses

3. Incorporate inclusive design from the start

Inclusive design means finding creative ways to include as many people as possible in the design of a new product or service. Inclusive design looks at differences in abilities, genders, languages, and even cultures to create the best experience for all users. Computers are a good example of inclusive design because they typically have settings and features that accommodate a variety of ages, languages and ability.

While new EPTs and electronic payment options are in development, designers may not consider inclusive design. To improve accessibility, inclusive design must play a role in the development of all payment technologies from the very start.

This means manufacturers should work with persons with disabilities at the design stage to find practical solutions to common accessibility barriers. The working group had some ideas for supporting innovative design, including:

  • promoting the use of inclusive design within industries involved in the production and use of EPTs, and
  • introducing user-specific accessibility settings to payment cards and smartphone payment apps that automatically accommodate accessibility needs
    • for example, customers could request large font or increased volume preferences programmed into their credit or debit card. When the customer inserts their card to pay, the EPT will automatically increase the font and volume of the terminal

4. Conduct more research and share best practices

Finally, there is a need for more research to understand how future payment technologies will affect persons with disabilities. To do this, the working group recommended future research could focus on areas like:

  • understanding the percentage of Canadians with disabilities who have little understanding of finances, or who don’t have access to a bank, credit or debit
    • this data will help identify the number of persons with disabilities who don’t have access to basic financial products and services
  • finding out how many cashless payment methods persons with disabilities are currently using and how to support their accessibility
    • this will help determine if smartphone payments, or other cashless payment methods, are more accessible and reliable for persons with disabilities
  • identifying future trends in payment technologies and EPT devices
    • this includes identifying whether these trends are more or less accessible for persons with disabilities
  • calculating the financial benefits for businesses who use accessible EPTs
    • this data will confirm the financial benefits of making businesses more accessible
  • identifying other barriers persons with disabilities encounter in the retail sector not already identified in the report

Businesses and other organizations should also share their progress and best practices with each other as they work to become more accessible. This exchange of ideas will promote and increase knowledge around the importance of accessibility and help businesses discover and remove barriers from their organization.

While research and sharing of best practices is an important next step, it is also important to make sure this work results in real action. To do this, the working group proposed that they continue:

  • identifying organizations, industries and businesses that have, or already are, working to improve the accessibility of EPTs in their business environment
  • sharing lessons learned and best practices and using these for ongoing or future projects
  • creating a database for research, best practices and ideas for removing accessibility barriers and improving EPTs, and
  • creating partnerships between public and private sectors to work on new solutions that remove barriers related to EPTs

Conclusion

Advances in EPT technology present an opportunity to reduce the barriers that persons with disabilities experience everyday. As technology continues to change, EPT designers and manufacturers should use inclusive design to make sure future payment technologies are accessible for everyone.

As work on accessible EPTs continues, all partners must follow the disability community’s principle of “nothing without us.” This means that organizations involve persons with disabilities in the design of EPTs and payment technology from the start. This includes persons with disabilities:

  • participating in the design and testing of EPT hardware and software, and
  • providing training and guidance to businesses

While the costs of buying or leasing new EPTs may be expensive, the overall benefits of improving accessibility are greater. Improving and promoting accessibility improves access for everyone, regardless of ability. Accessible EPTs are a win-win proposal for persons with disabilities and for businesses because:

  • persons with disabilities will feel confident completing their purchases independently, and
  • businesses will increase the number of satisfied customers who want to come back

Removing barriers requires organizations, businesses, all levels of government and persons with disabilities to work together.

Improving the accessibility of EPTs is a small but important step we can take towards building a barrier-free Canada. Not just for persons with disabilities, but for all Canadians.

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