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Touch screen card machines breach Equality Act, says David Blunkett

Touch screen card machines breach the Equality Act, as they are inaccessible for blind and visually impaired people, David Blunkett has said.

The former Labour home secretary, now Lord Blunkett, has been blind since birth, because of a genetic disorder which meant his optic nerves did not develop properly.

He went on to invite Treasury minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton to dinner – and said he would pay if they have an accessible flat screen payment system.

Lord Blunkett told the House of Lords: “Someone with low or no vision can access a smartphone, because there is a serial voiceover function, because you can have several goes if you hit the wrong buttons the first time.

“If you’re spending over £100 in hospitality and you’re faced with a flat screen and you get it wrong, you’ll lose access to your card.

“And the providers are pretending that there’s accessibility when there are markings down the left hand side of a flat screen.

“It’s a major, major challenge for those without sight and it’s, in my view, in complete breach of the 2010 Equality Act that providers do not provide the necessary covers that can be available to make at least a stab, and I mean literally a stab, at hitting the right buttons – and it’s time we acted.”

Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond, who is also blind, added: “If the concept of inclusivity by design was thoroughly understood, we would never have had these inaccessible touch screen devices.”

He urged the minister to ensure that all financial services and products are inclusive at every stage.

Lord Holmes, who became blind as a teenager because of a genetic eye disorder known as familial exudative vitreoretinopathy, went on to win 15 medals, inducing nine golds, in swimming at the Paralympic Games.

Lady Vere responded: “The Government is unequivocally supportive of all efforts by the financial services industry, the card machine operators and charities such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind to make card machines fully accessible for those with visual impairments.

“In November 2023, UK Finance published a list of vendors who produced approved devices to help assist merchants with purchasing a device which is sufficiently accessible.”

She added that UK Finance and the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) published accessibility guidance in 2022, and that the industry is holding forums on specific interventions, including technology and training, to improve accessibility across a range of banking services.

The minister told peers that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is responsible for regulating the financial services industry and that its business principles say particular care must be given to the treatment of vulnerable customers.

Lady Vere concluded: “Any regulations that were introduced at any particular point in time have become out of date very, very quickly.

“Underpinning the work we are doing is, of course, the Equality Act 2010, but the whole point about having an independent regulator in the FCA is that their rules can change quickly.

“So the FCA does issue guidance, which sets out how financial services organisations need to ensure that people with disabilities, who may be more vulnerable, do get the support that they need.”

Lord Blunkett stood up a second time to say: “I would like to invite Lady Vere out to dinner and I promise to pay if there’s a flat screen and I can access it.”

The minister responded: “Now that’s a first at the dispatch box. I’ve been invited on buses and trains, but never out to dinner.

“I don’t really know what to say to that but I will try and find a restaurant that has an appropriate touch screen and I would be happy to continue the conversation.”