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The Significance of Smart Cards for People with Disabilities

J M Gill


Self-service terminals are being used by the general public for an increasing range of applications.  The most sophisticated terminal in widespread use is the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), but ticket selling machines for public transport now offer a bewildering number of choices to the user.  To handle this increased number of choices, the terminal often incorporates a sophisticated interface which can cause problems for users who are elderly or have a disability.  However some of these terminals give the potential for modifying the interface to meet the needs of the individual user.

In many countries, anti-discrimination legislation is being considered, which will require service providers to make their services accessible by people with disabilities.  In the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes specific mention of ATMs.  In the UK, it is likely to become an issue in the next general election, with no party wishing to appear to be against people with disabilities.

To select a preferred interface, the user could simply press a button or select from a menu on the screen.  However this is unlikely to find favour with service providers if it significantly increases the time taken to undertake the transaction, but it may be viable for simple operations such as increasing audio amplification on a public telephone.  For applications such as a cash dispenser, the user’s preferences could be stored on a central computer and implemented as soon as the PIN (personal identification number) has been entered.

However another method would be to store the information on the card.  With a magnetic stripe card there is very limited spare capacity for storing this information, but this method has been used successfully for storing the user’s preference for language (eg English or French).  A smart card has fewer restrictions on storage capacity so appears to be ideal for this purpose, as long as some international standard is agreed for the coding of this information on the card.

What is a Smart Card?
A smart card is a credit card sized plastic card incorporating an integrated micro circuit.  This circuit holds information in electronic form that can be easily, securely and accurately accessed by all sorts of terminals.

Smart cards are of three main types:
Memory only:  often used as pre-payment cards for public telephones.
Microprocessor:  this adds the possibility of incorporating security features for banking applications.
Contactless:  eliminates the need to put the card in a reader which is useful for transport applications.

Smart cards are used in many countries in Europe for public telephones, customer loyalty systems, public transport, banking applications and for storing medical information.  One European manufacturer produced over 200 million smart cards last year.

Preferred User Interface
In the ideal world, the user would be able to select and store their preferred interface anytime they use the card at a terminal.  However practical constraints may restrict this choice to being at the time of issuing the card.

Preferred input:

Preferred operation:

Preferred output:

Smart cards offer exciting possibilities for improving access to self-service terminals by disabled and elderly persons.  However it will soon be essential that there is some agreed standard for recording these preferences on the smart card.




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