Commonwealth Bank settles discrimination claim by blind Australians over touchpad devices
The Commonwealth Bank’s Albert terminals are difficult for blind and vision-impaired people to use. (ABC News: Andy Ware)
The Commonwealth Bank has settled a discrimination case in the Federal Court launched by two blind Australians over the bank’s customer touchpad terminals.
- The Commonwealth Bank’s Albert touchpad terminals are found in businesses across Australia.
- The devices are difficult for blind and vision impaired people to use as there are no fixed buttons.
- The bank has settled a discrimination case brought by Nadia Mattiazzo and Graeme Innes.
Nadia Mattiazzo and former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes began the landmark discrimination case against the bank in 2018 over the devices, which are found in thousands of Australian businesses.
The touchpads, known as Albert terminals, are commonly found in cafes, restaurants and retail stores across the country.
But they pose significant issues for blind and vision-impaired Australians because the touchpads have no fixed buttons.
This makes entering Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) extremely difficult for blind customers, because there is no way to orientate where the digits are on the pads.
Graeme Innes hopes the Commonwealth Bank case will put other companies on notice. (AAP: Alan Porritt)
The bank has now agreed to settle the case and introduce new training and a software update to enhance accessibility for vision-impaired people.
The software update will enable customers to enter an accessibility mode with an audio function that will provide voice directions through headphones to help use the touchpads.
Mr Innes told 7.30 he hoped the case would put other large companies on notice about making their consumer products accessible.
“One of the benefits of running these sorts of court challenges is that it demonstrates to organisations, in whatever area, that they can’t treat people with disabilities differently to the way that people without disabilities are treated,” he said.
Ms Mattiazzo said “there’s a community expectation that things should be accessible, and it’s a bit of a shock when community comes across something that isn’t”.
A statement from the Commonwealth Bank said it “acknowledges the difficulty Mr Innes, Ms Mattiazzo and other Australians who are blind or vision-impaired have experienced using Albert’s touchscreen technology to enter their PINs”.
The bank also announced it had endorsed new accessibility principles for blind and vision-impaired Australians introduced by the Australian Banking Association.
Settlement an ‘insult’, says Blind Citizens Australia CEO
The case against the bank was run by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). Senior solicitor Michelle Cohen told 7.30 the bank had also agreed to significant training for businesses that use the touchpads.
“There are 350,000 blind and vision-impaired people in Australia who should be able to use technology in the same way that all of us can,” Ms Cohen said.
Emma Bennison, the CEO of Blind Citizens Australia, a peak body for blind and vision impaired Australians, said the bank had stalled on making changes to the Albert devices and should have ceased the rollout of the devices at an early stage.
Mr Innes and Ms Mattiazzo first raised concerns about the device in a complaint to the Human Rights Commission in 2016.
“It certainly seems to me that the bank is more interested frankly in saving what little is left of its reputation with business at the expense of making life easier and more accessible for people who are blind and vision-impaired,” Ms Bennison said.
She said the settlement did not go far enough and still posed issues for blind and vision impaired Australians.
She said the voice prompts for the Albert devices were still complicated, and that the settlement was an “insult” to people who are blind and vision-impaired.
The Commonwealth Bank’s statement said: “CBA is committed to providing the best possible experience for our customers and community, and will ensure accessibility remains a key requirement of product development in the future.”
‘Power imbalances in these cases are significant’
Launching discrimination cases in the Federal Court is challenging.
Under Australia’s discrimination laws, claims of unlawful discrimination that are unable to be resolved through conciliation in the Australian Human Rights Commission can be taken to the Federal Court. The court has powers to make a range of orders against companies and government agencies in the event a claim is upheld.
But the cost barrier is substantial. In the event a claim is lost, it could lead to court costs running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The power imbalances in these cases are significant,” Mr Innes said.
“You’re usually up against a large organisation with a big team of lawyers, and there’s constant pressures, both financial and other, when you’re pursuing a matter like this.”
Mr Innes and Ms Mattiazo’s case was financially supported by the Grata Fund, a new public interest litigation body set up in Australia.
“People really need to be able to hold corporations accountable to the law in courts, but the financial barriers in Australia are just too high,” the fund’s executive director Isabelle Reinecke told 7.30.
“It’s a massive hurdle for people to bring public interest litigation. If you’re facing having to pay a corporation or the government’s legal bills if you lose, you’re just not going to be able to take that risk on.”