Talking ATMs: Early History in California and Beyond

Bank of America Audio Jack

October 1, 2009 marks the 10th anniversary of the first Talking ATM installed in the United States. From that first accessible ATM in 1999, there are now tens of thousands of Talking ATMs around the world. Below, you can read about early Talking ATM history. You can learn more about Talking ATMs in the FAQ section of this website.

If you have a Talking ATM experience you would like to share, the Law Office of Lainey Feingold would love to hear it. Please read the post about sharing your Talking ATM story. If you are a person who is blind or visually impaired and have not yet tried a Talking ATM, the tenth anniversary is a great occasion to do so.

This post is one of several that will highlight the advocacy efforts, technology developments, and corporate commitment that have contributed to the proliferation of Talking ATMs in the U.S. and around the world over the past ten years. Please check back over the next two months for more Talking ATM history, advocacy and stories.

Simplified Summary of this Document


Early Talking ATM History

Blind community advocates laid the groundwork for Talking ATMs in the 1980’s and early 1990’s with important policy work on federal legislation and regulations, with advocacy efforts with the banking industry, and by serving on standard setting committees. Banks were first contacted using Structured Negotiations in the mid-1990’s, and, as described here, by 1999 all of these efforts resulted in the first installed Talking ATMs in the United States.

CCB advocacy leads to Wells Fargo’s 1999 Statewide Commitment

Three months before the first Talking ATM was installed in the United States, Wells Fargo and the California Council of the Blind (CCB) announced an historic plan to install Talking ATMs throughout California. Read the June, 1999 Wells Fargo / CCB press release. The plan was reached using Structured Negotiations and was the first agreement reached using this collaborative dispute resolution process. Read more about Structured Negotiations.

When the first twenty Wells Fargo Talking ATMs were installed the following April, 2000, Wells Fargo became the bank with the most Talking ATMs in the country, and another press release was issued. Read the April 2000 Wells Fargo / CCB press release. From there, In 2002, Wells Fargo announced state-wide plans for Talking ATMs in Iowa with ACB’s Iowa affiliate, and Talking ATMs in Utah with ACB’s Utah affiliate. In 2003 Wells Fargo announced that its Talking ATMs would provide spoken instruction in Spanish, and by 2009, all of Wells Fargo’s more than 7000 ATMs are Talking ATMs.

1999: First U.S. Talking ATM Installed in San Francisco City Hall

The first Talking ATM in the United States was built by Canadian accessibility company T-Base Communications, Inc. for the San Francisco Federal Credit Union, and installed in San Francisco City Hall. Read the San Francisco Chronicle Article about the First Talking ATM. Len Fowler, then a T-Base employee, flew to San Francisco with the parts, and assembled the audio aspects of the Diebold machine on-site as part of San Francisco’s groundbreaking efforts to have a fully accessible City Hall. T-Base was selected because the only Talking ATMs in the world at that time were twelve machines installed by the Royal Bank of Canada. With the country’s first Talking ATM being a credit union machine, it is inexcusable (and unlawful) that ten years later there are still credit unions that fail to provide Talking ATMs.

California Council of the Blind’s 1999 Citibank Announcement

One month after San Francisco’s Talking ATM was up and running, on November 9, 1999, the California Council of the Blind announced that Citibank had installed five Talking ATMs in California. Read the CCB Citibank Press Release. The announcement was the result of an agreement that CCB and individual CCB members, including Steven (”Steve”) Mendelsohn who spearheaded early Talking ATM legal efforts, had reached with the bank using the Structured Negotiations process instead of litigation. Eighteen months later, Citibank announced that it had installed the first Talking ATMs in New York. Read Citibank’s New York Talking ATM press release.

The early Citibank Talking ATMs were touchscreen only, with unique tactile input devices along the bottom of the screen. That input method, while innovative and effective at the time, proved cumbersome, and today all Talking ATMs, including Citibank ATMs have tactile keypads.

Bank of America’s 2000 multi-state Talking ATM Commitment

Bank of America was the first Bank in the country to agree to install Talking ATMs in more than one state. In March of 2000, the Bank announced that it had worked with CCB to develop a plan to install Talking ATMs in California and Florida, and that it would work out a plan for the rest of the country in the following year. Read the March, 2000 Bank of America press release.

Using the Structured Negotiations process, Bank of America, California Council of the Blind, and several blind individuals signed three different settlement agreements, ultimately calling for installation of Talking ATMs at every Bank of America location in the country. Read the national Bank of America press release. The Bank is now very close to meeting that goal, with over 15,000 Talking ATMs installed across the country. Read more about Bank of America’s Talking ATMs on Bank of America’s Talking ATM information page.

Please check back over the next two months for more information about Talking ATM history.

Simplified Summary

This post is about the early history of Talking ATMs. The first Talking ATM was installed in this country in 1999. It is almost the 10 year anniversary of the first Talking ATM. The first Talking ATM was installed in City Hall in San Francisco. Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America were the first banks to have Talking ATMs. [back to Early Talking ATM History ]