Automated postal kiosks include UW-Madison accessibility features
Postal patrons tired of standing in long lines to mail their holiday packages now can save time when they use one of the U.S. Postal Service's new automated postal centers (APCs) to conduct transactions themselves.
But while the kiosks offer most customers a level of convenience they've come to expect in today's world, APCs also give many people with visual, cognitive and physical impairments the kind of independence they rarely find.
The kiosks incorporate the University of Wisconsin-Madison Trace Research and Development Center's EZ Access features — a simple set of interface enhancements that manufacturers can integrate into electronic products and devices such as public information kiosks, ATMs and cellular phones, so more people, including older people and those with disabilities, can use them.
Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Trace researchers developed EZ Access over the past six years as an outgrowth of ongoing research and development on how to design standard information systems and products so that they are accessible for people with disabilities. With the addition of just a few buttons and voice output, a touch-screen product becomes usable by people who cannot see, read, reach the screen, or make fine movements with their arms, hands, or fingers.
The APC includes audio prompts, a headphone jack and a special keypad. In addition, it is accessible to people in wheelchairs and others who have limited reach. "As a person who is blind, I have always depended on the clerk to assist me with my postal transaction," says Neal Ewers, a senior instrument specialist with Trace. "I was delighted to discover that I could do everything I needed to do totally on my own by using the same device that everyone else uses. Its power was even more apparent when I discovered that many people would be able to look at the screen while also listening to the audio output. This will be a real benefit for people who are dyslexic, people who are just learning English, and people with low vision."
At the kiosk, customers can use debit or credit cards to purchase stamps, mail envelopes and packages weighing up to 70 pounds, dispense a variety of mailing indicia, look up ZIP codes, prepare several forms, and more.
Using the Trace technologies, IBM developed the APC, which the Postal Service is initially installing in 2,500 post offices around the country, with more to follow. Earlier this year, Kiosk magazine gave the APC an award for best retail kiosk application — an award, says Trace Center Director Gregg Vanderheiden, that illustrates how accessible designs can be better designs. "This is a great example of how accessibility can be seamlessly incorporated into a product, making it easier for everyone," he says.
Vanderheiden, also a professor of biomedical engineering and industrial and systems engineering, says he is delighted the Postal Service chose to include EZ Access technologies in the APC. "It is very encouraging to see this widespread dissemination of the EZ Access features," he says. "And the USPS Automated Postal Center, with its very user-friendly interface, is an excellent product to demonstrate them."