Making Cash Dispensers Easier to Use

Dr John Gill
September 1996

SATURN Project

If you wore bifocals, you would find it difficult to read the screen of a cash dispenser, since neither lens would be in focus at this distance. However it is possible to increase the size of the characters on the screen for individual customers who require this facility. This is just one example of what can be done to make cash dispensers easier to use by everyone.

When a person with a disability needs to use a cash dispenser, he or she may meet a number of difficulties. Some of these difficulties relate to finding the terminal or physically getting there, but many of the problems relate to the user interface on the cash dispenser. However many financial organisations are planning to change from magnetic stripe cards to smart cards (also known as ‘chip cards’). A few years ago a number of organisations realised that these smart cards could potentially alleviate many of the problems concerning the user interfaces of self-service machines such as cash dispensers, and as a result the Saturn project was established with the support of the European Commission.

The Saturn consortium includes major manufacturers of cash dispensers and self-service terminals, a major manufacturer of smart cards, a telecommunications operator, as well as organisations concerned with the needs of people with disabilities.

Many countries are now introducing legislation concerning the rights of people with disabilities. These laws may require that service providers install interfaces on self-service terminals which are appropriate for disabled users. The cost of retrofitting such interfaces is likely to be substantially more than the cost of introducing them when the terminals are installed.

The Numbers

In geographical Europe (with a population of about 800 million), there are about 100 million people over retirement age and 50 million people with disabilities. The prevalence of most forms of impairment increases considerably with age, and therefore the population of people with disabilities grows disproportionately as life expectancy rises.

Fig 1 Estimated population (in millions) of Europe aged 65 and over by year.

In geographic Europe the estimated number of people with impairments, such that they would have problems with using cash dispensers is:

Dexterity Impaired

Reduced function of arms and hands makes activities related to moving, turning or pressing objects difficult or impossible.

Cannot use fingers 1 Million Reduced strength 22 Million

Cannot use one arm 1 Million Reduced co-ordination 11 Million

Mobility Impaired

Reduced function of legs and feet means depending on a wheelchair or artificial aid to walking. In addition to people who are born with a disability, this group includes a very large number whose condition is caused by age or accidents.

Wheelchair user 3 Million Cannot walk without aid 45 Million

Cognitively Impaired

A dyslexic person may be able to remember the digits of a four figure PIN but not in the right order.

Dyslexia 25 Million Intellectually impaired 30 Million

Visually Impaired

Blindness implies a total or near total loss of the ability to perceive form. Low vision implies an ability to utilise some aspects of visual perception, but with a greater dependency on information received from other sources in addition.

Blind 1 Million Low vision 11 Million

The Problems

The problems of many people with disabilities may appear trivial to a non-disabled person. For instance many people would like a notch in the facia of the machine so that they can lean their walking stick against the machine without the stick falling over. Other problems require more complex modifications, but the technology is already available but frequently not implemented.

Meeting Individual Needs

To select a preferred interface, the user could simply press a button or select from a menu on the screen; this is likely to increase the time taken to undertake a transaction. Another possibility is to store the user’s preferences on a central computer and implement them as soon as the PIN (personal identification number) has been entered.

However, it is possible to store the information on the customer’s card. With a magnetic stripe card there is very limited spare capacity for storing this information (but this method has been used for storing the user’s preference for displayed language). A smart card has fewer restrictions on storage capacity so appears to be ideal for this purpose.

The user could request a particular interface by:

  • Filling in a form when applying for the card
  • At a help desk / registration station
  • Choosing at a cash dispenser

Many disabled users would like to be able to select and store their preferred interface whenever they use their card at a cash dispenser. It is essential that information is stored on a card only with the consent of the user.

Card Insertion

Of all of the problems cash dispenser users may face, card insertion in the correct orientation is of particular importance for people in wheelchairs, those with Parkinson’s disease and those who are blind. The problem can be significantly alleviated by the provision of a contactless card reader mounted under the facia. Contactless card technology is widely used in public transport applications (eg by London Transport on the Harrow buses and in Manchester), but the desire to retain invalid cards has prevented the use of this approach for cash dispensers. Since it is possible to electronically cancel contactless cards, this is no longer a valid reason not to provide this facility.

The Field Trial

Having undertaken a large number of tests in laboratories, a modified cash dispenser was installed in RNIB Resource Centre in Great Portland Street in London. This location was chosen since this resource centre is used by many people with disabilities.

The prototype cash dispenser includes both a conventional contact card reader and a contactless card reader which can operate at a range of up to 5 cm. The cards can store the preferences of the individual in respect to size of characters (a choice of three sizes), colour of foreground / background (black on white, white on black, white on red, and white on blue), voice messages, fast cash only and voice on time outs. This selection of features was based on earlier studies as to which features would be the most needed by people with disabilities.


The initial results of the field trial at RNIB indicate that:

  • Blind users would like to use private voice messages
  • Partially sighted users would like large print (white print on a black background) messages on the screen
  • Blind and partially sighted users would like to use a contactless card
  • Blind and partially sighted users would like to have the opportunity to extend the time permitted to respond to the terminal
  • Blind users would prefer to use the keypad for selecting options rather than using a touch screen
  • Blind and partially sighted users would like to use a cash dispenser in a safe environment


Gill, J. M. (1991) A vision of financial services: access to financial services for visually disabled people. EC project Technology and Blindness.

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Gill, J. M. (1995) Smart Cards: Meeting the Needs of Elderly and Disabled People. British Journal of Visual Impairment [online], 13(1), 74. [accessed 03/09/07].

Gill, J. M. (ed) (1994) Proceedings of the COST 219 Seminar on smart cards and disability, November 1994.

Gill, J. M. (1995) Smart cards: the forgotten customers. Proceedings of Smart Card ‘95, February 1995.

Gill, J. M. (1995) The importance of smart cards for people with disabilities. Proceedings of Human Factors in Telecommunications Conference, Melbourne, March 1995, 383-386.

Gill, J. M. & Currie, K. (1995) Smart cards and terminals. In: Roe, P. R. W., ed. Telecommunications for all. Brussels: COST 219, Commission of the European Communities. pp 196-204.

Gill, J. M. Design of smart card systems to meet the needs of disabled and elderly persons. Proceedings of the ECART3 Conference, Portugal, October 1995, 314-316.

Gill, J. M. (1996) Telecommunications: the missing links for people with disabilities. Brussels: The European Commission.

Gill, J. M. (1996) Smart cards: interfaces for people with disabilities. London: Royal National Institute of the Blind, Saturn Consortium.

Petrie, H., van Schaik, P., Kirby, V. & Orpe, H. (1995) The implications of smart card and self-service terminal technology for disabled and elderly people. In: Placencia Porrero, I. & Puig de la Bellacasa, R. eds. The European Context for Assistive Technology Proceedings of 2nd Tide Congress, Paris, 26-28 April 1995. Amsterdam: IOS Press. pp 102-105.

Petrie, H. & van Schaik, P. A. (1995) Functional classification of disability: implications for the design of accessible technology. Proceedings of the ECART3 Conference, Portugal, October 1995.

Silver, J. H., Gill, J. M. & Wolffsohn, J. S. W. (1995) Text display preferences on self-service terminals by visually disabled people. Optometry Today, 35(2), 24-27, January 30.

Slater, J. N. & Gill, J. M. (1995) Nightmare on smart street. In: Placencia Porrero, I. & Puig de la Bellacasa, R. eds. The European Context for Assistive Technology Proceedings of 2nd Tide Congress, Paris, 26-28 April 1995. Amsterdam: IOS Press. pp 155-158.

van Schaik, P., Petrie, H. & Kirby, V. (1995) Task performance and technology acceptance: the use of an automatic teller machine by elderly people. Proceedings of the ECART3 Conference, Portugal, October 1995.

The Saturn Project

The project is:

  • identifying the needs of disabled and elderly users in relation to smart cards;
  • examining the technical possibilities and economic constraints;
  • designing prototype adapted smart cards and terminals;
  • evaluating these systems with a cross-section of disabled and elderly users;
  • proposing appropriate standards and legislation.

The Saturn project is supported by the European Commission (DG XIII) under the TIDE initiative.

The Saturn Consortium


Dr John Gill

Jim Slater, Tel: +44 1980 610544, Fax: +44 1980 610544,

NCR (Scotland) Ltd

Kingsway West, Dundee DD2 3XX

Andrew Calder, Tel: +44 1382 345477, Fax: +44 1382 227664, Email

ICL Financial Terminals AB

PO Box 1938, S-581 18 Linköping, Sweden.

Bertil Hellberg, Tel: +46 13 31 75 36, Fax: +46 13 31 72 24

Ulf Andersson, Tel: +46 13 31 71 51, Fax: +46 13 3176 72

Groupe Gemplus

34 rue Guynemer, 5th Floor, F-92447 Issy-les-Moulineaux, Cedex Paris, France.

Olivier Trebucq, Tel: +33 1 46 48 20 32, Fax: +33 1 46 48 20 03

telia AB

Telematics and Disability Centre, S-136 80 Haninge, Sweden.

Dr Jan-Ingvar Lindström, Tel: +46 8 707 6576, Fax: +46 8 707 6692, Email:

Björn Bergström, Tel: +46 8 707 6754, Fax: +46 8 707 6779, Email:

University of Hertfordshire

Sensory Disabilities Research Unit, Psychology Division, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL10 9AB

Dr Helen Petrie, Tel: 01707 285058, Fax: 01707 285059, Email:

Dr Paul van Schaik, Tel: 01707 284630, Fax: 01707 285059, Email:

Human Factors Solutions

7 Övre Vallgate, N 0158 Oslo 1, Norway.

Adam Balfour, Tel: +47 22 42 18 57, Fax: +47 22 42 32 42, Email: