Sharjah: The first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) for the visually-impaired in the Middle East has been opened in Sharjah on Tuesday.

The new ATM, launched by Sharjah Islamic Bank (SIB), enables the visually impaired to complete the entire transaction unassisted. Awatef Ahmad Akbari, Head of Internal Operations at Tamkeen, a training centre for the visually impaired in Dubai, told Gulf News that she had tried the machine and it was very easy to use. “The ATM is very effective and it enables me to be completely independent and complete my money transaction alone without any assistance and so provides me with privacy and security,” explained Awatef, who is also visually impaired.

Mohammad Abdullah, CEO of SIB, said the project was adopted by SIB after a phone call, about six months ago, from the renowned visually-impared Emirati Lawyer Manar Al Hammadi to Sharjah radio and TV’s “Direct Line” programme, complaining that banks do not have facilities for the blind.

The new machine features a large Braille keypad in both Arabic and English, a high resolution screen, voice assisted interface also in both languages, which could be heard through speakers or headphones for more privacy. Abdullah said that another key difference between the new machine and a regular ATM is that it has three security cameras as apposed to one.

The project was carried out by Computer Network Systems (CNS), Wincor Nixdorf’s agent in the UAE. Ayman Basha, CNS representative, ensured that the ATM machine had the same security measures dictated by the Central Bank and followed by regular ATMs worldwide.

“The ATM provides the visually impaired user with speed, security, privacy and ease.” He also said that there are similar ATMs in US and Germany but this one has the latest technology.

Adel Al Zamar, Vice Chairman of Emirates Association for the Blind, said: “Banking services had been a long standing need for us visually-impared and the ATM is very accessible and easy to use.” He said the Association has around 150-200 members and they will benefit directly from the new ATM.

This is the first and only blind friendly ATM in the region. Abdullah said they are planning to put more machines across the UAE as soon as they get feedback from visually impaired users and refine the machine.

This is the second initiative by SIB for people with special needs, as they have previously made a wheelchair friendly ATM machine, also in collaboration with CNS.