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Cards and Smart Media


Card systems are already used extensively for telecommunications, public transport and self-service terminals. Many people now carry cards to access banking terminals. These cards could hold information on the user's requirements or preferences.

Swipe card readers
Because of the need to accurately control the way the card is swiped, elderly and disabled persons are likely to find these difficult to use.

Smart cardsIllustration of a smart card

A smart card is a credit card sized plastic card incorporating an integrated circuit. This circuit holds information that can be securely and accurately read by all sorts of terminals. Smart cards are able to carry larger amounts of information than magnetic stripe cards. Smart cards provide the opportunity to make machines much more 'user friendly' than they have ever been before. For disabled and elderly people, a smart card can carry information that tells a terminal to:


  • allow the user more time. Many elderly people and those with a cognitive impairment do not like to be rushed or to think that they are likely to be 'timed out' by the machine, so it is necessary to allow for such people to use the terminal at their own pace
  • simplify the choices such as issuing a pre-set amount of money
  • larger characters for people with low vision
  • audio output of non-confidential information. The coding of user requirements is specified in the European standard EN1332-4.

Embossing on cards
For blind persons, there is the problem of selecting the right card from their wallet. It is recommended that cards incorporate embossed symbols according to the draft standard.

Contactless smart cards
A contactless proximity card, working at a distance of up to 10 cm, will help those who have problems placing a card in a slot. This is of particular importance to wheelchair users, those with Parkinson's disease or arthritis, and people with a visual disability.

A vicinity card is one that operates in the range of 10cm to 2 metres. The main applications are in public transport where a passenger could be logged both entering and leaving a vehicle. Vicinity cards offer the possibility of incorporating a number of facilities useful for disabled passengers; these vary from automatically requesting a wheelchair ramp to triggering audible announcements of the destination of a bus.

Illustration of card with incormorated 2mm notchCard orientation
Blind persons, and many elderly persons, have problems in inserting the card in the correct orientation; this is a particular problem with cards which are not embossed. It is recommended that a 2 mm notch is incorporated in the trailing edge (according to EN 1332-2).


Card entryIllustration to show funnel and flashing light on a card entry slot

For the naïve user, it is often far from obvious where to insert the card. A flashing light around the card entry slot has been found beneficial. For those with hand tremor, it is useful if the entrance to the card reader acts as a funnel to guide the card in correctly.

Customer verification
The conventional method for customer verification is for the recipient to compare the signature on the payment slip with the signature on the back of the card. With self-service terminals the conventional method is for the customer to key in a 4 digit personal identification number (PIN). Customers often have difficulty in remembering too many PINs (particularly if they are used infrequently), so are prone to writing them down which lessens the security of the system. People with dyslexia can have problems in remembering the digits in the correct order.

Numerous biometric systems have been developed to improve security; these include fingerprints, corneal patterns, and facial recognition. For people with disabilities it would be desirable for the customer to be able to choose to use an alternative method of customer verification; for instance a customer with damaged fingers might want to use a PIN instead of finger print recognition.

Smart Media

Smart Media is the term used to include all types of smart cards as well as other tags or tokens which incorporate an electronic chip.

There are over a thousand million smart cards in use in Europe today, and they have the potential to make life easier for people with disabilities.

A smart card is a card, the size of a conventional credit card, which incorporates an electronic chip. These cards can be:

  • Memory only for applications such as pre-payment telephone cards.
  • Memory plus a microprocessor for applications requiring more security such as credit and debit cards.
  • Proximity where the card has to be held within 20 cm of the reader - mainly used for public transport applications.
  • Vicinity where the card is between 10 cm and 2 metres of the reader.
  • Distant contactless where the card is more than 2 metres from the reading device - for instance in road charging applications.

To verify that the user is the legitimate holder of the card, it may be necessary to input a four digit personal identification number (PIN). By 2005 this will be required when paying by credit or debit card in a shop in the UK.

Other methods for verifying legitimate users are under consideration; these include fingerprints, iris patterns and facial recognition. These biometric systems are good for comparing the holder with the identification on the card (ie verification) but can be problematic when determining absolute identification which requires comparison to a large database.

In the financial area, the motivation for changing from magnetic stripe to smart cards is to reduce fraud since it is much harder to make a copy of a smart card. In the public transport area, the main motivations are speed of processing payments and the ability to allocate revenues and subsidies between various transport operators.

The UK government plans to use smart cards to give citizens access to a whole range of services. Rather than having a large number of different cards, it is possible to hold more than one application on a card.

One possibility is for there to be a UK health smart card to be presented by individuals requiring health services. This could contain just an identification number, and the patient's health record would be stored on a central computer system. Another possibility, albeit expensive, would be for the card to contain a summary of the patient's health record. Another possibility would be for a card solely for handling prescriptions. In this case, the doctor would put the prescription details on the card and the patient would take the card to the chemist. Such a system would reduce the paperwork of the present paper-based system, and could automatically handle those who are exempt from paying prescription charges.

One aspect where smart cards differ from the conventional magnetic stripe cards is that they can store more data. For instance, at the customer's request, a smart card could hold information on the preferred user interface. There is a European standard, EN 1332-4, which specifies how this information should be coded on the card. The coding structure allows for a number of aspects including size and colour of text on a screen, speech output, audio amplification, time-outs, language, and interface complexity level. Current work is on extending this standard to cover accessibility options for computer systems, interactive television and next generation networks.

The UK Banking Code defines an electronic purse as "Any card or function of a card which contains real value in the form of electronic money which someone has paid for in advance, and which can be reloaded with further funds and which can be used for a range of purposes". Despite numerous pilot schemes and some larger scale projects, the consumers have not perceived significant benefit from using electronic purses instead of cash for paying for small purchases. However attitudes could change if governments introduce electronic purses as part of a multi-application card, and provide incentives to encourage usage.

It would be possible to issue blank cards, and for users to download their desired applications onto the card. However there are numerous aspects (such as ownership, branding and liability) which mean that such an approach is unlikely to be widely used in the foreseeable future. However multi-application cards are likely to become more common; initially these will be for applications owned by a single issuer (eg a local council responsible for library services, sports facilities and car parking).

One problem, particularly for blind people, is to differentiate the various cards in their wallet or purse. There is a draft standard (prEN 1332-5) for tactual markings on cards; the problem will be in persuading card issuers that there is an unmet need which can be alleviated by using this standard and by educating the users about these markings.

Similar technology to that in contactless smart cards is RFID (radio frequency identification) tags which are used in short range applications such as door entry systems, time and attendance, cashless vending and asset tracking. Typical operating ranges are 2-3 metres in Europe and 5-8 metres in USA. Over the next few years, RFID tags will begin to take over from bar codes in identifying products in shops and supermarkets.

A similar technology will be used in NFC (near field communication) devices which are intended for very short range wireless connections - typical range of up to 20 centimetres. It is planned that NFC will be used for the transfer of data between mobile phones, digital cameras, PDAs, PCs, laptops, games consoles and PC peripherals at speeds up to 212 kbit/s.


  • Incorporate a notch in all ID-1 cards according to EN 1332-2.
  • Smart Media should incorporate coding of user requirements according to EN 1332-4.

Relevant standards

  • CWA 13987-1 Smart Card Systems - Interoperable citizen services - User related information (based on DISTINCT) - Part 1: Definition of User related information
  • CWA 13987-1 Smart Card Systems - Interoperable citizen services - User related information (based on DISTINCT) - Part 2: Implementation Guidelines.
  • CWA 14147 (8 parts) Financial transactional IC card reader (FINREAD).
  • EN 726 Requirements for IC cards and terminals for telecommunications use.
  • EN 1332 Machine readable cards, related device interfaces and operations. Part 2 Dimension and location of tactile identifier for ID-1 cards. Part 4 Coding of user requirements for people with special needs.
  • ETR 165 (1995) Recommendations for a tactile identifier on machine readable cards for telecommunications terminals.
  • ETSI ETS 300 767 (July 1997) Telephone prepayment cards: Tactile identifier.
  • ISO 7816 Identification cards: Integrated circuit cards with contacts.
  • ISO/IEC 10536 (2000) Identification cards: Contactless integrated circuit cards.
    • Part 1 Design principles and symbols for the user interface.
    • Part 2 Dimension and location of tactile identifier for ID-1 cards.
    • Part 3 Keypads.
    • Part 4 Coding of user requirements for people with special needs.
  • ITU E118 Automatic international telephone credit cards.
  • ITU E136 Tactile identifier on pre-paid telephone cards.

Checklist for Cards

Further information

  • Smart Cards: Accessibility and Social Inclusion
  • National Smart Card Project
  • Best Practice Manual (Part 1). eEurope 2002 Smart Card Charter Trailblazer 8 - User Requirements group, March 2003
  • Developments in Smart Card Systems User Requirements for Cardholder Identification, Authentication and Digital Signatures
  • Selecting Cards by Touch
  • The Use of Electronic Purses by Disabled People: What are the Needs?
  • Making Cash Dispensers Easier to Use
  • Smart Cards: The Coding of User Interface Requirements.
  • Smart Cards: Interfaces for People with Disabilities
  • Tactile Identifier
  • New European Standards (EN 1332)
  • Section 508 guidelines on self-contained closed products
  • Guidelines for Designers of Public Access Terminals
  • "Self Service for All", Deltasenteret, Norway
  • Smart Cards in Australia: The Impact of Smart Cards on People with Disabilities
  • CEN/ISSS URI Extended CWA 13987-1:2002- Smart Card Systems: Interoperable Citizen Services: User Related Information: Part 1 Definition of User Related Information and Implementation.
  • EN 1332-4 Coding of User Requirements for People with Special Needs.
  • Raised Tactile Symbols for Differentiation of Application on ID-1 Cards.
  • User Requirements for Cardholder Identification, Authentication and Digital Signatures.
  • Developments in Biometrics