Sarah Lawrence: Is Text Relay holding deaf people back?

Posted on October 15, 2012

Is it me, or is Type Talk and it’s new incarnation Text Relay, something that belongs to a bygone age?

I’m not being harsh here. What BT did in the 1980’s to develop text phones, and then in 1991 to launch the Type Talk service, were wonderful improvements for Deaf and Hard of Hearing telephone users. BT opened up lines of communication that did not exist, and did so funding the service themselves. I for one, will always be grateful for their consideration.

To their huge credit BT have supported Text Relay ever since.

The thing is, I’ve used Text Relay many times, and when it works well it does help me communicate. The trouble is, I can recall countless times that I have had to wait ages for an operator to explain to one business or another what Text Relay is, how it works, and its confidentiality. All too often, having jumped all those hurdles, the call receiver hangs up at the start of the conversation or soon afterwards because it takes so long to send a message they think I’ve hung up, and they just replace the receiver.

The other thing is, how often does a business choose to ring a Deaf or Hard of Hearing customer using Text Relay, even when they have this information? Rarely at best in my experience. Why is that? Is it a lack of thought, lack of understanding, or simply because they just don’t like using it?

BT did lots of training when it was launched – I’m left wondering if it forms part of the induction process and training anymore in the vast majority of UK based businesses.

Text Relay moved us a long way, but 21 years later, my question is – is this the best means now available to help Deaf and Hard of Hearing communicate with businesses and public services? Unsurprisingly, my answer to the question is no, and I’ll tell you why.

Technology is moving on at one heck of a pace, and we are about to enter a time when a significant number of business to customer transactions will be completed through payment systems loaded onto our mobile phones.

And yet, despite being on the threshold of this new payment era, most banks, building societies, insurance companies, utilities and many more, wont let me pay my accounts using any method other than through their tired and out-dated systems.

Quite often, those systems and processes hide behind the availability of Text Relay to tell me I can’t use text, email, twitter, facebook, videophone or live interpretation to converse with them. What was once a great enabler to communication is being used a barrier to change.

Thankfully, there are some beacons of great practice, and the AA and RAC are moving this agenda on in their business sector. I applaud them for their efforts. What I need as a deaf person, whose first language is British Sign Language, is for other business sectors to show willing too, and to recognise that excellence in customer service is about enabling me, the customer, to communicate in whatever way best suits me. I shouldn’t have to use technology that is now 21 years old!

But enough of what I think, what do you think? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences, particularly if you have positive examples to share with us.

This article was first published on Sarah’s blog, The Hidden Disability:

Sarah Lawrence is a Deaf business woman and director of Deaf Friendly Business Solutions, with over 14 years’ experience of working with the public sector and private businesses to improve access through tailor-made training packages. In 2011 she launched ‘SL First’, the first magazine in the UK that aims to promote lifestyle choices and information on accessible businesses directly to Deaf and hard of hearing audiences. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys playing golf, exotic beach holidays and quality time with family and friends. And dark ginger chocolate. You can also follow her on twitter: @deaffriendly1 and @SLFirstLtd

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