Self-checkout machines continue to get more popular, but many machines are inaccessible to people with disabilities. For example, Lyndsay Watterson, a fashion businesswoman who uses a wheelchair, made a video showing how a screen was situated too high up for her to use easily and tilted in such a way that glare made it basically unreadable. Only after she made multiple complaints did the store make changes.
Automation, Lawsuits, and Regulations
Lawsuits and regulations are coming down the pipeline. Companies want to automate more to save money on hiring employees and speed up the check-out process, but it’s possible that companies will have to slow down their automation efforts while they work to make their self-checkout kiosks more accessible.
There are many ways to make a kiosk accessible—TPGi’s most popular method involves fitting a touchscreen kiosk with JAWS for Kiosk, a screen reader and a STORM Audio-Nav Keypad (which is tactile and so is an accessible version of the touchscreen).
There still aren’t enough accessible kiosks, says Matt Hackert, explaining that accessible kiosks are “far being outpaced by installations where accessibility really wasn’t a thought of the vendors providing the kiosks.” Matt Hackert is a nonvisual access technology specialist at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB recently played a big role in McDonald’s decision to deploy accessible kiosks with TPGi’s JAWS for Kiosk installed.
Accessibility in Court
Many companies argue that it isn’t necessary for kiosks to be accessible because a customer with disabilities can ask a staff member to assist them or because there is always another way to check out (in the cashier’s line).
The legal status on kiosk accessibility is not defined at the moment as there are no explicit laws on the books about accessible kiosks though there have still been lawsuits. (And other technology-related accessibility lawsuits are growing as more website owners are sued for inaccessible websites.)
For instance, the NFB was involved in a lawsuit against Walmart in 2018 in which the NFB alleged that Walmart’s self-checkout machines were inaccessible to customers who were blind. The lawsuit had been touched off by a situation where two customers who were blind had to ask for staff assistance with a kiosk and the customers alleged that the staff who worked with them had taken advantage of the situation and stolen $40.
Using the same argument as the companies mentioned above, Walmart successfully argued in Maryland that staff were trained on how to assist customers with disabilities and that this made self-checkout kiosks accessible under the ADA.
Eve Hill, a disability-rights lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the Walmart case, remains unsatisfied.
The disability-rights lawyer for the customers in that case, Eve Hill, is still convinced that the kiosks were inaccessible by their nature. Hill argues that “In order to be equally effective, it has to be equally independent and equally private. I go to the self-checkout because I want to buy a lot of cookies, or whatever I’m ashamed of, and I don’t want staff to see that. [My clients] don’t have that option.”
Matt Hackert, from the NFB, has further concerns. Relying on staff can leave customers waiting on help, but it can also open the door to fraud. An unscrupulous person could pretend to be a staff member and steal money or credit card information from a customer who’s blind. For that matter, an actual staff member could do the same thing.
What the Future Will Bring
Because of a dearth of regulations surrounding self-checkout kiosks, the Access Board of the federal government created proposed rules and requested comment from the public. Groups like the NFB and the National Association of the Deaf support these creating new rules. After taking public comments into account, the Access Board will release their full proposal and a federal agency with rule enforcing powers can choose to make the proposed rules into enforceable regulations, which would settle many of the past arguments about kiosk accessibility.