Regardless of how much you travel, it is likely that you have used self-service kiosks during your journey. What you may not know is that it is also likely you have used an IBM solution in the process. IBM Self-service Solutions offers an industry leading set of customer-facing solutions that help travel and transportation (T&T) clients improve customer service. Over 8000 IBM developed kiosks are installed worldwide with major airports, air carriers, and hotel chains.
However, some people experience barriers when trying to use self-service kiosks. Such kiosks often utilize touch-screens that can be difficult if not impossible for persons to use if they are blind or have low vision or mobility impairments as a result of age or disability.
Our clients and the T&T Industry are starting to put more focus on meeting the needs of these rapidly growing market segments. Active seniors are one of four major customer segments forecast to have a substantial effect on the airline industry during the next 15 years1. Clients also need to comply with a variety of existing or emerging worldwide accessibility regulations.
Design & Development
In 2007, the IBM Self-service Solutions Practice began meeting this market need by consulting with Bill Curtis-Davidson, an accessible kiosk expert from IBM Research (see The team tab). The team began by researching possible hardware and software components that could be used to meet accessibility standards and which could be integrated into the N Series Kiosk, IBM’s full service kiosk designed for applications such as check-in, check-out, ticketing and loyalty.
The team defined two major objectives:
- Choose hardware accessibility components that could co-exist with the variety of devices that need to fit into a limited form factor (e.g. card reader, barcode scanner)
- Design an elegant software accessibility approach that would result in minimal re-design of the core software applications (e.g. check-in/check-out)
Throughout its design process, the team referenced the IBM Self-Contained, Closed Product Accessibility Checklist on the IBM Human Ability & Accessibility Center Intranet. The team also integrated EZ Access® components2, which they had successfully employed in the award-winning US Postal Service Automated Postal Center®. Key design elements included:
The biggest design challenge the team encountered resulted in one of the most interesting features: the layered audio user assistance. Daniel Orner, Software Developer, was the lead developer of the unique user assistance (see The team tab). The user assistance starts automatically when the user plugs in their headset, helps orient the user to the overall kiosk, then guides the user in completing the transaction. The system automatically gives a small amount of assistance at key events (e.g., initiating transaction, loading new screen). The user can ask the system to replay or provide more assistance by pressing a dedicated "help" key, and the audio can be interrupted by pressing any key.
Enhancing the User Experience
The impact on the user experience for persons with disabilities resulting from this design project is tremendous. Currently, many passengers with disabilities have no choice but to check into their flight at an airline customer service counter. While airports and air carriers offer special assistance to such passengers, the passenger’s level of independence is minimal. The new accessibility features of this solution could offer a way for passengers with disabilities to check into their flight independently, from identifying themselves, retrieving a reservation, upgrading, making seat selections, making payments, checking bags, and printing their boarding pass and receipt.
IBM has demonstrated this solution at many public events: IATA Common Use Self-Service Standard meetings, Guestroom 2010 at HITEC Conference 2007, and Check-In Conference 2007 & 2008. The most effective demonstration occurred at the 2008 CSUN Conference on Technology & Persons with Disabilities, where dozens of people with vision and mobility impairments gave it a test run. Feedback from this event was very positive, and it was very gratifying to see people complete an airline check-in transaction using the new features with an unprecedented level of independence. For many, this solution represents future possibilities that in the end will help them be more independent. For IBM, this solution represents an excellent example of "Usable Access", and we feel it will help our clients make further improvements in the area of customer experience.
- "The Need for Accessible Self-Service Kiosks", IBM Human Ability & Accessibility Center News, 2008
- "Accessible self-service kiosks can help companies innovate", Bill Curtis-Davidson, Check-In Magazine, 2008
- "All Aboard: Travel and transportation—moving ahead with accessible technology", Executive Brief from IBM Human Ability & Accessibility Center, 2008
- IBM Self-Contained, Closed Product Accessibility Checklist, IBM Human Ability & Accessibility Center
(1) Amadeus North America. "Four traveler groups to transform airline sector according to Landmark report commissioned by Amadeus", 07-Feb-2007.
(2) EZ® and EZ Access® are registered trademarks of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).