Is your business keeping customers with disabilities in mind?

14th January 2019

As a person with a hearing disability (I am deaf in one ear) I sometimes wonder what it will be like when I reach old age and my hearing goes for good. How will I cope then? How will I ask for the basics? I won’t be able to have a conversation on the phone and while I could still see people on Skype, unless they used sign language, or I perfected my lip-reading skills, I wouldn’t be able to work out what they are saying.

And those are just the concerns I have about interacting with friends and colleagues. My interactions with the business world will probably be even more complex. How will I know to keep persevering when automated voice on the other end of the phone tells me ‘your call is important to us, please stay on the line…’

Or how would I follow up with a complaint higher up the management chain when the customer service team won’t respond to my emails?

I’m really not sure how the hard of hearing and people with other types of disabilities cope in a world when even the fully ‘enabled’ customer has difficulties in being heard with some companies who’ve let their customer service levels drop.

It was interesting to then read that Zurich announced a partnership with the British Sign Language (BSL) Online Interpreting Service, SignLive, to introduce a dedicated new service for its deaf and hard of hearing customers.

It claims to be the first insurer to offer this flagship service which enables customers with impaired hearing to contact the insurer using SignLive video interpreter. The interpreter acts as a middleman on behalf of the customer on behalf of the customer, carrying out their instructions, liaising with the insurer and sharing feedback with the customer.

The usual security checks apply. Customers using the service for the first time need to register with SignLive to complete online security and video quality checks for they can access an interpreter. But after that’s all over customers will be able to access this service for free from any mobile device simply by downloading the app from the App store or Google Play.

While the introduction of services like this should be applauded it’s sad that in 2019 a company like Zurich claims to be the first insurer to provide such a service. In 2019! Now I’m not saying that every industry is behind in servicing those with disabilities but let’s just call it a hunch that there are few retailers and restaurants that offer sign language interpreters for the hard of hearing as they walk through the door.

A quick Google search reveals that there are around 13.3 million disabled people living in the UK [source: Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)]. What’s more, they didn’t all start out like that. According to the DLF, only 17% of disabled people were born with disabilities and the majority of disabled people have therefore acquired their disability later on in life.

The older people get the more likely they are to be disabled. The DLF says that 18% of working adults are disabled while 44% of adults over State Pension age are disabled.

So, what is your business doing if it doesn’t cater to disabled customers? It’s effectively cutting out almost half of the elderly population and millions of disabled workers. If your company is doing nothing to help people that have suffered from hearing loss, it’s not catering to approximately 10 million people in the UK – that’s one in every six people according to the DLF.

What’s sad is that the technology currently exists to help those customers who are hard of hearing. Chatbots, for instance, can help someone who’s able to type and ask questions, even if they can’t hear. But not all company websites enable customers to interact in this way even though the feedback can be instantaneous and satisfying.

You don’t need Zurich’s big budget to make a difference to customers who are disabled. All it takes is some ingenuity and the willingness to embrace new technology that can make everyone’s lives easier.

We’re all getting older. And sooner or later it’s only a matter of time before we need a helping hand to make purchases and transact.

We take our abilities for granted and just expect those that don’t have them to just fit in. Or perhaps they are merely invisible to us? But if more businesses catered to the disabled they would in fact be inviting millions to engage with them - something which many entrepreneurs dream about.

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