March 15, 2011 marked the effective date for new regulations (the “2010 Standards”) implemented by the US Justice Department (“DOJ”) that govern accessibility for places of public accommodation, including automatic teller machines (“ATMs”). The regulations include technically specific accessibility requirements that were previously lacking in the general accessibility requirements established in 1991 (the “1991 Standards”). While the 1991 Standards require ATMs to be accessible and independently useable by persons with visual impairments, the 2010 Standards related to ATMs include but are not limited to technical requirements for speech output, privacy, tactilely-discernable input controls, display screens, and Braille instruction.
Safe harbor provisions, allowing for continued compliance with the 1991 Standards for a period of time, do not apply to these technical specifications that are new to the 2010 Standards. Consequently, the technical, communications-related elements required for ATMs in the 2010 Standards must be implemented by March 15, 2012, unless compliance would cause an “undue burden” for the financial institution. Therefore, unless you can make a showing of “undue burden,” ATMs must be upgraded to the new standards on or after March 15, 2012, “to the extent readily achievable.”
Generally speaking, it is much more difficult to meet the standard for an “undue burden” than the standard for what is not “readily achievable.” An undue burden requires “significant difficulty or expense.” In each case, the DOJ considers these standards to require individualized, case-by-case analyses. The requirements of the new regulations are lengthy, and financial institutions should develop implementation plans to the extent their ATMs are not in compliance with the regulations.
The regulations may be found here: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleIII_2010/titleIII_2010_regulations.htm.