It’s a question I hear frequently – not every day, but often enough that it sticks with me: Why do drive-through ATMs have Braille keyboards?
The people who ask this question are generally decent folk; they are hardly what I would consider insensitive, and they truly care about the concepts of respect and inclusion. They ask the question, not out of ridicule, but rather of real curiosity and confusion. The notion of a Braille keyboard at a drive-through location seems some-how incongruous and missing a real point – it just doesn’t make sense to them.
The answer of course is surprisingly simple – the blind user can sit behind the driver in the car and thus do their banking independently, without having to exit the car, go to the bank-counter and have the clerk assist them with their financial needs. Just as for sighted users, it is quick, easy and time-saving.
But the fact that the question continues to be asked underscores a subtle problem: for many people who do not interact with the blind on a regular basis find it difficult to ‘put themselves in the blind user’s shoes’ – to understand the smaller day-to-day accommodations and needs that they just take for granted.
I bring this up today as I am preparing to work on a Change Proposal to the emerging HTML5 Specification. One ‘bug‘, raised by a blind user and re-enforced by other blind participants in the process (as well as many accessibility specialists) concerns the image used for a place-holder when a video is embedded into a web page.
A number of engineers argue that “What is shown on that image to sighted users is what they expect from the video” and thus a textual replacement for the video should equal a textual replacement for the image. I suggest that this response is similar to the initial response that prompts the question “why do drive-through ATMs have Braille keyboards?” – both arise from the perspective of failing to understand that the ‘blind experience’, while very similar to others, is sometimes different in small, nuanced ways. What sighted people ‘expect’ and what blind users ‘expect’ may often not be the same: sighted users expect that to take advantage of a Braille keyboard at a drive-through ATM you must be the driver of the vehicle (which makes no sense to them), whereas blind users expect that whenever they encounter an ATM they are afforded the opportunity to use that machine, whether it is at a walk-up location, or whether they are in the back-seat of a friend’s car.
As I work on my Change Proposal, and submit it to the Working Group at the W3C, it is my hope that those who currently do not understand why this issue is important stop and pause for just a second, and think the problem all the way through: it might not at first make sense that the video and the place-holding image should each require a textual replacement, but then again, for many it does not makes sense at first to put Braille keyboards at drive-through ATMs – but when you stop and think about the question, after a while the answer is obvious.