Self-Service Technology Is Growing Rapidly. Are You Keeping Up?

Meet ADA requirements and enrich customer experience with accessible self-service kiosks.

Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), public-facing technology must be accessible. Website and app accessibility is essential, and both receive significant attention in the legal space. But digital accessibility includes access to all technology and information, including self-service technology in its many applications.

Access to information and services on kiosks is a civil right. ADA guidelines prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all places open to the public: If you open your doors and supply goods and services physically or virtually, you must provide accommodations.

The term “kiosk” broadly includes tablets and any closed system technology offering services, products, and information. ADA requirements state that self-service kiosks must be usable by everyone, including people who cannot see a screen, hear a video, use a mouse, or reach the screen.

At the end of this article, we’ve compiled a list of widely used types of self-service kiosks that must be accessible under ADA guidelines.

Self-service kiosks are everywhere, from checkout systems to parking lots.

Self-service technology has become increasingly prevalent across various industries. Interactive self-service kiosks allow customers to independently access information, place orders, make payments, and perform other transactions, transforming how businesses engage with their customers.

According to Industry ARC’s Self-Service Kiosk Forecast, this market is estimated to surpass the $35.8 billion mark by 2026 and is expected to grow at a rate of 6.4% from 2021 to 2026. It’s easy to see why: besides being efficient and profitable, they can shorten customer wait times and reduce time spent during each interaction.

Self-service kiosks can improve the customer experience. The Kiosk Industry Organization’s most recent findings found that 65% of customers prefer using self-service technology over full-service options. Kiosks can make transactions easier and provide customers with detailed information on your product or service. But if self-service technology isn’t accessible, it may as well be covered with a “do not use” sign. Under Title III of the ADA, that’s considered discrimination.

ADA guidelines require any self-service kiosk to accommodate people with disabilities.

Public accommodations have certain affirmative obligations beyond refraining from treating a person with a disability differently.

“The ADA requires affirmative actions to level the playing field, ensuring people with disabilities have the same access to your goods, services, and facilities,” according to Ashley Jenkins, an associate at Seyfarth Shaw specializing in ADA compliance.

Jenkins says there are three affirmative obligations under the ADA.

First, facilities must be physically accessible to people with disabilities, and those features must be maintained. The second is to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures to ensure people with disabilities can access your services and goods. And the third is to ensure people with disabilities receive effective communication by providing communication aids and services at no charge. There are some limited defenses to these obligations.

“Private individuals can sue for injunctive relief, which means they can make the business do what they should already be doing, plus attorney’s fees and costs,” Jenkins says. “The other enforcement mechanism is a Department of Justice (DOJ) action, which typically starts with an investigation. If you agree with the DOJ on how to resolve that investigation, then the matter is resolved. If you do not, the DOJ can file a lawsuit. The DOJ can seek a very hefty penalty, injunctive relief, and damages.”

According to Minh Vu, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw who specializes in ADA Title III matters, legal cases involving inaccessible kiosks and employee assistance are on the rise.

“I tell clients this,” Vu says. “Can you rely on your employees to properly help customers at these kiosks? In the case of a lawsuit, will an employee remember an encounter at that kiosk a year ago? That suit will be lost if the plaintiff can say the response time was too slow, and you will have no evidence whatsoever.”

The legal and customer response comes back to making every part of the kiosk experience accessible, covering all hardware, software, and assistive technology considerations.

ADA requirements demand provisions for nondiscrimination and effective communication in self-service kiosks.

The revised Section 508 guidelines (federal procurement regulations) specifically identify kiosks as covered information and communication technology (ICT). State procurement and anti-discrimination laws are part of the strong foundation supporting kiosk accessibility in the United States.

Around the globe, accessibility policies support kiosk accessibility. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) lays the foundation for international access. Smart cities aren’t smart enough if everyone cannot access and use public kiosks.

Whether your technology serves healthcare, financial, education, retail, or government functions, accessibility should be at the top of your to-do list.

Beyond the legal risk, people with disabilities make up a vast and often untapped market.

The number of potential customers living with disabilities is larger than many think. Up to 1 in 4 American adults, or 61 million people (about twice the population of Texas), have some form of disability, according to the CDC. Globally, that number reaches about one billion people or 15% of the world’s population.

Many companies focus solely on compliance and miss the significant opportunity to consider people with disabilities, along with their friends and families, as customers.

The American Institute for Research (AIR) reports that people with disabilities have a purchasing power of $490 billion. This market controls over $13 trillion in disposable income globally, according to the Return on Disability Organization. Add in friends and family, and that market reaches 3.3 billion potential consumers who act on their emotional connection to people with disabilities. Together, disability touches 73% of consumers globally.

“Our study finds that working-age adults with disabilities are a large and relatively untapped market for businesses in the U.S.,” according to AIR researcher Michelle Yin, who contributed to the report using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. “We hope this report is a starting point to help businesses better understand and serve this group of consumers with unique needs.”

When asked, people with disabilities reported that between 75% –80% of their customer experiences are failures. If these customers cannot use your website, app, or self-service kiosk because of accessibility barriers, they will be lost to a competitor that has made their accommodations accessible. And it’s safe to assume their friends, family, and community will follow suit.

Even more, people with disabilities have the potential to become highly loyal, according to Matt Ater, Vice President of Vispero.

“As a person with a disability myself, being blind, I’ll tell you that if people with disabilities feel comfortable engaging with a business, they’re more likely to come back and be loyal,” Ater says. “They often have so much trouble with the vast majority of [digital assets] that once they find one that actually accommodates their needs, they stick with it.”

How do you make sure kiosks are accessible and legally compliant?

A few things are certain: if there is no audio output and input method available for those who can’t see a screen, the kiosk is off-limits to a person who is blind. If it has video but no captions, it’s unavailable to a person who is deaf. If controls are out of reach, people in wheelchairs cannot get to the information. Add to that the numerous forms of disabilities that must be accommodated under the ADA, such as cognitive disabilities, low-vision, color blindness, and autism, to name a few.

The legal and customer response comes back to ensuring kiosks are fully compliant with the ADA and that they can be used effectively by people with disabilities. That covers all hardware, software, and assistive technology considerations.

Take McDonald’s, for example, which installed the JAWS for Kiosk screen readers in corporate-owned stores and franchise locations across the U.S. The effort required an understanding of McDonald’s robust self-order kiosk interface and a plan for making the extensive menu easily navigable and intuitive for customers that are blind or have low vision.

JAWS for Kiosk allows blind and low-vision users to interact with self-service kiosks by inserting headphones into the headphone jack found on the navigation pad, which then navigates the kiosk screen, reading the content as they move through the application.

An accessible and well-designed kiosk can give all users an efficient and independent experience. As with all things related to accessibility, it is vital to consider an accessible design from the very beginning: it’s significantly more cost-effective to make a kiosk, product, website, or app accessible before it is developed or in use.

What are the most common reasons kiosks and self-service devices are considered inaccessible?

People with disabilities may not get the full user experience at kiosks, whether they lack screen readers, tactile keypads, captions, and other critical accessibility tools. Often, an attendant is unavailable to help, and the only option is the inaccessible device.

Self-service devices and other kiosks can be inaccessible for several reasons:

  • Kiosks may consist primarily of visual media. Without a speech component, people who are blind or have low vision cannot use the device. Alternatively, some kiosks only have a speech component, which makes them inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Some kiosks use only touchscreens for navigating the device and inputting information. Touchscreens are without any tactile discernment and don’t give any guidance to someone who is blind or has low vision, making the kiosk inaccessible.
  • The kiosk screen is sometimes too high up, which means a person using a wheelchair cannot correctly view, see, or touch the screen.
  • A user might need fine motor skills to complete a task on the kiosk, which means that the kiosk is inaccessible to people with limited dexterity.
  • Some kiosks time people out after a relatively short time, making the kiosk unusable for someone who needs a longer time to complete a task. Sometimes, a person can tap a button to avoid timing out. If this button is not audible, blind people or those with low vision would be timed out.

As with all technology, user testing is vital to create and maintain an accessible kiosk.

One piece of the accessibility puzzle is having people with disabilities give feedback along the way and before deployment. This might be the tech. version of the civil rights slogan, “Nothing about us without us.”

AIR also reports that businesses can access markets worth billions by developing inclusive hiring practices and involving people with disabilities in product development.

“Kiosk design should be tested by people with various types of disabilities,” Ater says. “This may include user testing at various stages during the design and development process. At a minimum, usability testing should be done once the design is complete. It will also be important to ensure that staff who may help people using the kiosk understand what accessibility features are present and how to help someone use them. An accessibility feature is only as good as a person’s ability to use it and their knowledge that it exists in the first place.”

And finally, ask your vendors to verify ADA compliance.

“Have vendors provide background or backup to show they’ve undergone thorough accessibility auditing,” Ater says. “Make them prove it to you. This is important: Just because you bought it from [a vendor], you are the responsible party unless you put some requirements in your purchasing agreements.”

All self-service technology needs a strategy to stay legally compliant, serve every customer, and ensure the business and consumer advantages of kiosks remain advantages. The responsibility to be ADA -compliant is ongoing.

Need help making your kiosk accessible? Contact one of our experts today!

Types of Kiosks

Government Kiosks

Bill Payment

State and local governments could use a bill payment kiosk to allow citizens to pay fines like parking tickets or littering offenses.

License Renewal

License Renewal kiosks change how customers think of their local DMV and DOT. The kiosks provide an efficient, simple solution for renewing licenses and allow government employees to focus on more detailed tasks.

Security Check-In

Security check-in kiosks help government establishments provide a secure environment for employees and guests. Guests and employees can check in, alert the necessary parties, and print out required badges using the kiosk.

Public Information Kiosks

Public information kiosks can give residents and visitors free mobile device charging, domestic phone calls, access to city services, and a dedicated function to reach 911. Thanks to a settlement negotiated by Disability Rights Advocate on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, those kiosks are now available to everyone.

Retail and Grocery Store Kiosks

Supermarkets and other retail stores have introduced technology for customers to scan and pay for shopping. Self-checkout is increasingly common, typically used in food retail, for selling clothes, and in entertainment venues.

Employment Kiosks

Some companies set up employment kiosks where job seekers can apply for work. This type of kiosk is prevalent in chain stores. Employment kiosks can quickly identify promising candidates, who often receive an interview on the spot. Kiosks can help employees fill out paperwork, print, scan, and send documents, manage payroll and time, and promote and communicate new programs.

Food Service Kiosks

Some restaurants install self-service kiosks to streamline the process of taking food orders. Customers can follow interactive prompts to select their meals and customize their orders. The kiosks usually accept credit or debit cards, eliminating the need for a human cashier.

Healthcare Kiosks

The healthcare industry implements kiosks as a method for accepting bill payments, checking in patients for appointments, and patient record keeping. At some kiosks, patients can take their blood pressure or perform other non-invasive tests and then relay the results to their doctors. Medical kiosks can also offer educational videos about medical conditions and their treatments.

Airport Self-Service

Airport kiosks allow visitors to check in, print boarding passes, check their bags, and request seating changes. In addition to these specific functions, airport kiosks can increase brand visibility, provide wayfinding functionality, news headlines, and public health messaging.

Hotel Automated Service

In hotels, kiosks can let guests check into and out of their rooms, create room keys (key cards), and even book a restaurant reservation or upgrade to a suite. Some kiosks allow guests to create, change, or cancel reservations.

Self-Service Parking

Parking kiosks allow visitors to pay for parking directly via credit or debit card or a connected app. Parking kiosks can perform several functions, including ticket printing and scanning, payment processing, receipt printing, parking status information, and capacity information.

Ticketing Kiosks

In movie theaters, attractions, events, entertainment venues, museums, sporting events, conventions, and more, self-service ticketing kiosks allow visitors to buy tickets directly from a self-service device. Ticketing kiosks enable customers to print and pick up pre-purchased tickets through a ‘will-call’ style setup.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Business, Kiosk