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Considerations for making an accessible kiosk

Special thanks to Matt Feldman for his contributions.

From airports and train stations to government offices, restaurants, grocery stores and retailers, the use of kiosk machines is widespread as a convenience for customers and an alternative to human service by the kiosk provider. Long gone are the days where an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) was the only form of kiosk a person might need to use. It is now commonplace to find common service functions are now performed through kiosk solutions. As the use of kiosks grows, so does the need to ensure they are accessible and usable for all people, including those with disabilities.

The application of accessibility standards to kiosk machines

While there is no universal set of standards that provide specific guidance around making kiosks accessible, there are standards that may be useful. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards provide direction in making web content accessible. These standards will be most applicable when the kiosk interface is presented in an HTML or web-based format. For example, a bank kiosk may allow customers to access account information from their online banking portal or a hotel might provide a kiosk to allow a customer to manage their stay or account information.

In addition, the U.S. government Section 508 standards may also be used to guide interface development. Specifically, these standards may apply to government related kiosk machines. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) contains standards for physical design considerations that may be useful in determining the physical requirements of a kiosk machine.

In addition to the broadly applied standards such as WCAG 2.0 and the ADA, specific industries may adopt or create specific standards unique to their environment. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation created the Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) which provides requirements around the accessibility of airline industry technologies. The ACAA identifies specific standards on how and when their kiosks should be made accessible. Other industries may wish to use standards such as the ACAA as a starting place when developing their own regulations or standards.

Most Kiosks are considered stand alone or closed system, meaning users won’t have the flexibility to use personal assistive technology to access or interact with content or elements. This requires vendors to consider the needs of individual with varying abilities.

Unlike WCAG and Section 508, which provide precise guidelines and technical specifications related to accessibility, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) has taken a different approach with performance based objectives, more like the functional requirements in Section 508.

These objectives ensure a wide variety of user needs are built into these closed systems.

CVAA Performance Objectives

§ 14.21 Performance Objectives (read the full section at the Legal Information Institute)

  1. Generally – Manufacturers and service providers shall ensure that equipment and services covered by this part are accessible, usable, and compatible as those terms are defined in paragraphs (b) through (d) of this section.
  2. Accessible – The term accessible shall mean that:
    1. Input, control, and mechanical functions shall be locatable, identifiable, and operable in accordance with each of the following, assessed independently:
      1. Operable without vision. Provide at least one mode that does not require user vision.
      2. Operable with low vision and limited or no hearing. Provide at least one mode that permits operation by users with visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/200, without relying on audio output.
      3. Operable with little or no color perception. Provide at least one mode that does not require user color perception.
      4. Operable without hearing. Provide at least one mode that does not require user auditory perception.
      5. Operable with limited manual dexterity. Provide at least one mode that does not require user fine motor control or simultaneous actions.
      6. Operable with limited reach and strength. Provide at least one mode that is operable with user limited reach and strength.
      7. Operable with a Prosthetic Device. Controls shall be operable without requiring body contact or close body proximity.
      8. Operable without time dependent controls. Provide at least one mode that does not require a response time or allows response time to be by passed or adjusted by the user over a wide range.
      9. Operable without speech. Provide at least one mode that does not require user speech.
      10. Operable with limited cognitive skills. Provide at least one mode that minimizes the cognitive, memory, language, and learning skills required of the user.

Considerations when making kiosks accessible

The following considerations are broadly useful when incorporating accessibility into kiosk.

Physical design

  • Are all controls on the kiosk tactilely distinguishable? For example, is it possible to identify the audio headphone jack by touch or by a tactile symbol?
  • Do controls have braille or large print labels? While putting braille labels on all keys on a standard QWERTY keyboard may not be necessary, it may be important to label special function keys or controls that are not standard on a traditional keyboard.
  • Is the height and spacing of the screen and controls appropriate for different types of users? An individual in a wheel chair may be viewing the screen from a lower angle than someone who is standing up.
  • Is there sufficient physical clearance around the machine for users with assistive mobility devices? A person in a wheelchair, scooter, or other mobility device may need more room to maneuver when approaching or leaving the machine.

Interface design

  • What types of controls are needed to use the interface? For example, is a physical keyboard needed along with a touch screen in order for someone to enter text? Should a mouse, track ball, or touch pad device be present if a pointer is needed to use the interface? A person with a motor skills challenge may find it difficult to move their hand around a touch screen but may have no trouble using a track ball or touch pad pointer.
  • Can the visual presentation of the interface be customized? For example, can someone with a visual impairment zoom in or out to change the size of the onscreen font? Can someone who is color blind determine the functionality of controls by a method other than color alone?
  • Does the interface provide speech output? For someone who is blind or low vision, speech output (text-to-speech) may be the only way they can interact with the device. Does the text-to-speech function activate when headphones are inserted into the jack? If not, is there a clearly communicated way such as a braille sign for the user to know how to activate the text-to-speech function?
  • Does the interface reset to a standard configuration after each person uses it? The interface should always return to a default state after each user completes their tasks.


In addition to the considerations listed above, it is important to ensure that the kiosk design is tested by people with various types of disabilities. This may include testing at various stages during the design and development process but at a minimum, user testing should be done once the design is complete. In addition, it will also be important to ensure that staff who may assist people using the kiosk understand what accessibility features are present and how to help someone use them. An accessibility feature is only as good as a person’s ability to use it and their knowledge that it exists in the first place. Staff may also wish to periodically test the accessibility features to verify they are always working as expected.

An accessible and well-designed kiosk machine can provide an efficient and independent experience for all users. As with all things related to accessibility, it is important to consider an accessible design from the very beginning. It is generally much more costly and inefficient to add accessibility after a product has been developed or is already in use.

Learn more about the state of kiosk accessibility requirements and what can be done to address by registering for our 60 minute webinar scheduled for November 28th at noon ET.