Is Your ATM Machine A Lawsuit Waiting To Happen?

The 2010 Amendments to the ADA (and accompanying changes to the ADA’s design guidelines) require owners and operators of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to modify new and existing ATMs to improve access for the disabled. These mandated changes, which required compliance by March 15, 2012, have resulted in a rash of lawsuits across the country, including significant class action lawsuits in Texas and Pennsylvania. These lawsuits have largely targeted smaller financial institutions, including community banks and credit unions.

ATM Accessibility Requirements

Although the ADA has required ATMs to be “accessible” to the disabled since 1991, the 2010 Amendments provide new and specific technical requirements and specifications. These include:

  • Requirements that all individuals are provided the same degree of privacy when using ATMs;
  • Minimum clear ground space requirements for walk-up ATMs to ensure access by mobility impaired users (such as individuals who use wheelchairs);
  • Restrictions on the distance an ATM user has to reach to access controls and use the machine;
  • Specific requirements on ATM input devices including the arrangement of keypads,  Braille, and the height of input keys; and
  • Speech output functions to ensure that all ATM functions and features (with limited exceptions) are available to the visually impaired.

A complete list of the technical requirements for ATMs can be found in Section 707 of the 2010 ADA Accessibility Standards. In some cases, ATM owners can avoid certain requirements where compliance would create an undue burden.

Practical Advice to Stay in Compliance and Avoid Litigation

ADA plaintiff’s lawyers and advocacy groups often like to target public accommodations that are subject to new or amended compliance requirements. ATMs, therefore, pose a tempting target as financial institutions and other owners seek to understand and comply with these new requirements. As many business owners know, there are no “silver bullets” to avoid being on the receiving end of an ADA lawsuit. Taking certain common-sense steps, however, can help reduce the potential of a lawsuit and increase the likelihood that any litigation ends quickly and successfully. These measures include:

  • Have your ATMs inspected and evaluated by an ADA expert who has experience with the current accessibility standards. For most businesses, undertaking this expense is far better then expending resources defending a federal lawsuit. A professional inspection that shows compliance can also provide strong evidence to support your case should you be faced with a lawsuit.
  • Include a visual check of your ATMs as part of your opening and closing procedures to ensure that the machines are functioning properly. This will lessen the likelihood that your machines are out of compliance based on an accidental (or intentionally caused) malfunction. This step can also help demonstrate that any claimed violation was incidental and not evidence of general or long term non-compliance.
  • Work with your ATM supplier/vendor to ensure that any newly purchased ATMs will satisfy the new ADA standards “out of the box.”
  • If you plan to categorize a required modification as an “undue burden” (and hence not make the change) consult with an attorney to ensure that your designation makes sense based on how the courts and the Department of Justice analyze this limited exception; and
  • Establish procedures and provide training to your employees on how to respond to complaints involving accessibility, or requests for assistance in accessing ATMs.

The ADA’s public accommodations requirements (which allow for the recovery of attorneys fees and costs) have been a favored cause of action for plaintiff’s law firms and advocacy groups for well over a decade. The new requirements and guidelines for ATMs have already made financial institutions—and particularly community banks and credit unions—a favored target. Understanding these requirements and taking steps to ensure compliance is the best way to minimize the risk of a lawsuit and its accompanying expense and business disruption.

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