john Gill technology header image

The Importance 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 geographic Europe, the estimated number of people with impairments is:

Wheelchair user                                                       2,800,000
Cannot walk without aid                                      45,000,000
Cannot use fingers                                                  1,100,000
Cannot use one arm                                                1,100,000
Reduced strength                                                  22,500,000
Reduced co-ordination                                         11,500,000
Profoundly deaf                                                      1,100,000
Hard of hearing                                                     80,000,000
Blind                                                                       1,100,000
Low vision                                                            11,500,000
Speech and language
Speech                                                                     2,300,000
Language                                                                5,600,000
Dyslexia                                                                25,000,000
Intellectually impaired                                          30,000,000

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.

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 customer verification method:

Although some of these biometric methods are used in specialised application areas, it is likely to be some years before they are used on an ordinary cash dispenser.

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.



John Gill Technology Limited Footer
John Gill Technology Limited Footer