One of the most common problems that D/deaf people face on a daily basis is not being able to contact organisations easily. For D/deaf people who cannot use the telephone, this can cause frequent accessibility issues.
From utilities to banks, Government departments to shops and services, contact methods offered can vary, and some are better than others. It’s often a case of researching each organisation individually to see which options they provide. You might think, the bigger the organisation, more provision is made, but not necessarily so.
The Equality Act 2010 advocates that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made to help disabled people access services, but it’s a very vague guideline and is open to individual interpretation on both sides and is based upon many different factors.
My ‘accessibility’ story…
A year or so ago, I received a missed call and voicemail and as I cannot hear on the telephone, I travelled to Mum’s house for her to find out who it was from. The message was from my bank, HSBC; asking me to contact them about a suspected fraudulent transaction. This led to an ongoing chain of events which highlighted the difficulty I was having trying to get in touch with them.
Understandably, the main issues both customer and organisation face are security and data protection. Don’t we all love ‘data protection’? Especially when it prevents us sometimes from accessing our own information, but of course it’s there to protect us!
I fully understand the challenges banks face to keep our money and data safe… Telephone banking is extremely challenging for them to guarantee the identity of the caller. But when it comes to accessibility and being able to deal with my accounts, I can see both sides of the argument.
If we can confirm our identity to the organisation, then all is tickety-boo, but when we can’t due to communication restrictions, that’s where the problem lies. Trying to contact a remote service can be virtually impossible when you have a hearing loss, if it can’t be achieved through online methods.
Exhausting all the options…
I asked my mother to call the bank on my behalf, thinking that if she spoke to them initially explaining I was deaf and alongside her, I could confirm my identity by speaking to the operative. This didn’t work as she was informed that a third party couldn’t be involved without a signed Third Party Authority mandate.
I also couldn’t sort out this issue through online banking or any of the other communication methods offered, so the last option was to speak to a person face to face, therefore I had to travel to my nearest town to go into the branch.
This got me thinking; What if I couldn’t get to the branch? What if I was abroad? What if I was at work? Etc. Were they providing ‘reasonable adjustments’?
The other options provided for D/deaf customers included;
- Sign Video (BSL users) – I don’t know enough BSL, so this is not suitable for me.
- Next Generation Text Relay – no matter how many times I tried, due to the length of the query, the app kept crashing before resolving the issue.
- Signing multiple Third Party Authorities – why should I have to give away full access to my account to whoever I might be with at the time? (Work colleagues, friends, family, boyfriend etc), this didn’t seem either fair or secure for me. I only wanted a third party to access my bank for me while I was with them. We didn’t want them to be able to telephone without me present.
Coming to a resolution…
And so began a long dialogue with HSBC as to how this issue could be improved for the future. This led to me taking legal action and involvement from the Financial Ombudsman.
Luckily, eventually I resolved the issue with them. During this time, I highlighted the challenges D/deaf people have to face when contacting their bank. We worked together to reach a solution to allow a third party to be able to telephone on my behalf, as long as I was in attendance and could confirm certain security details.
During this time, I decided to open another account at a different bank in case I couldn’t overcome the issue. The next blog in this series tells you about how I worked with my new bank to overcome this issue and improve accessibility for D/deaf customers… (Link once published)