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Commonwealth Bank Settles Blind Discrimination Case

Commonwealth Bank settles blind discrimination case

The Commonwealth Bank has settled a discrimination case involving two blind customers and the bank’s new trouchpad eftpos terminals.

Nadia Mattiazzo and Graeme Innes launched the discrimination case against the Commonwealth Bank over the transaction terminals in 2018, which are now found in tens of thousands of Australian businesses.

The bank has now agreed to settle the case which was heard in the Federal Court, and promised to introduce new training and a software update to improve accessibility for vision-impaired people.

The background

The touchpads, known as Albert terminals, are found in shops, restaurants, cafes and retail stores.

While they are quick and easy to use, they pose a significant problem for vision-impaired people because the touchpads are a flat glass screen and don’t have any fixed buttons.

This makes the task of entering a Personal Identification Number extremely difficult for blind customers, because there is no way to know where the numbers and buttons are on the pads.

“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” Ms Mattiazzo told the ABC’s 7.30 program.

Nadia Mattiazzo launched the discrimination action against the Commonwealth Bank.

The legal action

Mr Innes and Ms Mattiazzo first raised concerns about the device in a complaint to the Human Rights Commission in 2016.

James Vercoe from Discrimination Claims said if matters can’t be resolved through conciliation in the Commission, they are usually then referred to the Federal Court.

“If it gets to the Federal Court, it’s serious, because the court has the power to make a range of orders against companies and government agencies if a claim is upheld,” he said.

But Mr Vercoe warned that taking matters to court can be a very expensive exercise.

“You want to be pretty sure of your case, because if the court rules against you, you could be up for costs that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

The case against the bank was run by senior solicitor Michelle Cohen from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“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,” she said.

Mr Innes said the power inbalance in the case was significiant.

“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 matters like this,” he said.

Graeme Innes said there is a power imbalance taking on big companies in court.

The result

The Commonwealth Bank agreed to settle the case, and to update software for the pads which will allow customers to enter a special access mode that activates an audio function that gives voice directions through a set of headphones.

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 said it had endorsed the Australian Banking Associations’s new accessibility principles for blind and vision-impaired Australians.

Mr Innes said he hoped the case would put other companies on notice to also make their products accessible to vision-impaired people.

“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.

Go deeper

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If you have been discriminated against on the basis of a disability or an impairment, you may be entitled to compensation.

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