In 1968, the Architectural Barriers Act, the first measure by Congress addressing the necessity for buildings and facilities to be accessible for people with disabilities, was passed. Since then, the United States has been taking steps to help people with disabilities navigate public space more easily.
But we can always do more. There are still many design details in public places that pose difficulties for people with disabilities. Many wheelchair users, for instance, talk about how restaurants — including those that claim to be accessible — are not particularly friendly to them. Customers in wheelchairs can find lining up at the cashier troublesome, because other customers might shove them around, sometimes by accident, sometimes just out of crudeness.
Troubles ensue when they proceed to the cashier. Though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires check-out counters to have one section no higher than 36 inches to accommodate people in wheelchairs, the requirement is rather ambiguous as it applies to facilities where “doing so is readily achievable.” Moreover, a counter of this height might not be very comfortable for a cashier who’s standing, and customers in wheelchairs may also feel uncomfortable because they are talked “down” to.
Some restaurants believe they have found a solution to some of these accessibility troubles with self-ordering kiosks. Companies like GRUBBRR can customize the size and shape of their self-ordering kiosks, helping restaurants place the kiosks at the right height and in the optimal location. Customers in wheelchairs will be able to skip the line and order at their own pace, minimizing discomfort.
However, restaurants that want to become more accessible by installing self-ordering kiosks must also pay attention to many other details to accommodate customers in wheelchairs. When we walk into a restaurant that uses self-ordering kiosks, we often notice these kiosks are placed very closely to each other, and the close distance between kiosks can make it impossible for a wheelchair to squeeze in.
Restaurants also need to ensure the paths toward and away from the self-ordering kiosks are accessible for people in wheelchairs, removing all possible obstacles along the way and building ramps where necessary.
Even when the distance between kiosks is wide enough and the path toward the kiosks is clear, there is still the problem of height. How close to the ground should restaurants place their kiosks to accommodate all customers in wheelchairs who vary in height? And how many kiosks should be placed at a lower height? A single “accessible kiosk” is not enough if there are several customers in wheelchairs ordering at the same time.
McDonald’s, which has been experimenting with self-ordering kiosks for some time, grapples with these issues by allowing customers to tap a wheelchair logo at the bottom of a kiosk’s screen to shrink the screen display to a more “manageable” size. This seems like a good way to accommodate all customers, but it’s not without drawbacks either: will a customer in a wheelchair who also has visual impairments find it difficult to operate a shrunken display? Perhaps a more inclusive solution is to introduce self-ordering kiosks that can physically lower their screens when customers press a button or speak a command.
While new technology is making our life easier, we must also remember people with disabilities may need more consideration. Developers and researchers should always bear in mind the needs of as many users as possible, and self-ordering kiosks can certainly be adapted to accommodate all kinds of customers.