June 28, 2005

Disabled Access to Kiosks

Most kiosks are not designed for access by disabled persons. Self-service kiosk check-in terminals at airlines are one example. California is considering legislation to change that.

Published: June 28, 2005

Even during peak travel times, the line at the American Airlines ticket counter in Philadelphia moves quickly for most business travelers. But not for Peggy Elliott, who waited nearly an hour to check in for a recent flight.

"People were zipping past me because they could use the self-service kiosks," said Ms. Elliott, a lawyer from Grinnell, Iowa. "I had to stand in a long line to wait for a ticket agent."

Then again, Ms. Elliott is not like most business travelers. She is blind.

New technologies, including airport check-in kiosks and Web-based reservations systems, have been heavily promoted by the travel industry as conveniences for customers. Unfortunately, they are not convenient for all customers.

Self-service airline terminals can be difficult or impossible to use for people with mobility, visual or hearing impairments. The same goes for hotel kiosks. And Web sites that are not carefully coded can be rendered useless to blind travelers who are using special screen readers to get access.

These shortcomings shut out more travelers than commonly thought. The latest census reported that one in five Americans have a "long-lasting condition or disability," including 9.3 million people with sight or hearing loss.

"Basically, they've developed all this technology with very little input by people with disabilities," said Candy Harrington, the editor of Emerging Horizons, a magazine about accessible travel. "I believe the travel industry wants to accommodate as many people as possible, but it's not easy."

For example, to make check-in kiosks work for travelers with visual impairments, the machines would have to undergo a costly retrofit to add a Braille reader or audio prompts. Alternately, the airline or hotel could provide an employee to help people with disabilities use the machines.

That is what should have happened to Ms. Elliott in Philadelphia, according to American Airlines. "The kiosks have agents and customer service representatives who circulate around them to offer assistance to any passenger who may need some sort of help with the process," said an airline spokesman, Tim Smith.

Read More -- Convenience, but Not for Everyone - New York Times

Posted by keefner at June 28, 2005 03:09 PM