Beth Jamieson: How Accessible Are The Big 6 Utility Companies For Deaf Customers?

Posted on October 28, 2015

As the Marketing Assistant for Clarion Interpreting, part of my role is to help organisations improve their accessibility for Deaf customers.Myself, along with my marketing partner in crime, Sarah decided to embark on a research project on the ‘big 6′ utility companies.

Winter is coming! Therefore, we decided to find out how easy it is for Deaf customers to contact their utility companies with queries concerning their existing accounts or interest in becoming a new customer.

Since they have 92.4% of the market, according to Wikipedia, we looked at the big 6 utility companies in the UK (British Gas, Eon, EDF,Scottish Power, SSE and Npower) and analysed their websites, specifically the contact us and accessibility pages. After all, these are the main companies people use for their gas and electricity, we thought it was worthwhile finding out what they do for their Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers.

We visited the websites of the ‘big 6’ looking for Deaf accessibility. Some companies are doing great, and some are paying lip-service and ticking the boxes. We’d like to hear your experiences, good and bad, of contacting utility companies. This article goes on to discuss the analysis in detail but here is a table that shows a summary of our findings:



Our methodology was to visit each website as if we were a customer looking to contact the company. We looked at:

  • Contact page: Do they have a contact page? Is it easy to find? How many clicks does it take to get to contact details that are useful for Deaf customers?
  • Accessible features on contact page: Do they have ways to contact them other than telephone? If they have a textphone number, is it clearly displayed and/or the same size as the ‘normal’ phone numbers? What are the options: textphone, live chat, VRI?
  • Accessibility Page: Do they have an accessibility page? Is it prominent? Do they have information about Deaf accessibility? What are the options: textphone, live chat, VRI?
  • Video Remote Interpreting: Do they have VRI? If yes, are there videos explaining how to use it? Does it need a plugin to work?

Findings (presented in table at the end):

  • All 6 utility companies have a contact us page
  • 3 of which you can get to in two or less clicks
  • All 6 utility companies have a textphone number
  • 3 of which are clear and/or the same size as the ‘normal’ phone numbers
  • All 6 utility companies have an accessibility page
  • 3 out of the 6 have useful information about accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers.
  • Only 1 out of the 6 big utility companies has Video Remote Interpreting for Deaf customers.
    This company, SSE, also has a BSL video explaining how it works.

Contact Page Analysis:

All of the big 6 utility companies in the UK have a contact us page, all of which have some form of accessible contact; mostly textphone.

Some companies make it easier than others to find the useful contact numbers; a good example of this is British Gas who not only have their ‘contact us’ button on the home page, but also have the textphone number as clear and as big as the other numbers:


Accessibility Page Analysis:

All of the big 6 utility companies in the UK have an accessibility page. ‘Accessibility’ buttons tend to be at the very bottom of the website page in a very small font near the Terms and Conditions – not everybody knows it’s there but it’s important for all companies to have one in accordance with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Accessibility Guidelines.

Even though they all have accessibility pages, only 3 out of the 6 provide accessibility information for Deaf customers, or blind or disabled for that matter.

EDF, although providing a textphone number, state underneath the heading ‘Hearing Impaired Customers’ that their pages are designed to allow screen readers to read their pages – while this is great for blind people, we’re not really sure how it helps the Deaf?!


Eon’s accessibility page consists of directing us to other websites relating to Deaf issues, some of which don’t exist anymore:


However, there are some good examples in amongst the not so good – once you find SSE’s accessibility page (I had to type it in their search bar) there is a textphone number, a link back to the ‘contact us’ page AND Video Remote Interpreting! Way to go SSE:


Live Chat Analysis:

Only 2 out of the 6 companies we looked at have live chat as an option on their contact us page. While one annoyingly pops up in the middle of your screen persistently, npower have a tab by the side of the contact page, small but there if you need it:


Video Remote Interpreting Analysis:

Out of the big 6 utility companies, only 1 provides a Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) Service for their Deaf customers to contact them through. SSE not only have a VRI service but they also have a video explaining how their VRI works:


Granted, the VRI system needs a plugin to work (on the computer we were using anyway) but this is a fantastic start and by far the most accessible utility company we have come across as yet!


Overall, it is encouraging to know that most of the utility companies are making an effort to make their services accessible to their Deaf customers with textphone numbers and live chat. Some are doing fantastically, others could do with a little more work by adding services such as Video Remote Interpreting.

The current state seems for some like ‘we must do it because we have boxes to tick’ attitude with very little strategy on how to tackle the issues Deaf customers face when wanting to change providers or send over a meter reading; whilst others really do take it seriously, as we see in the case of SSE.

Here is a table showing the full analysis:


We live in a generation that is controlled by technology, all of us use it on a daily basis, so why not take advantage of the new systems to promote accessibility for all disabilities, not only hearing impaired.

If you are a customer, we would be interested in hearing your thoughts on why you think increasing accessibility is a potential challenge for some of these corporate companies.

If you are a utility company and want to know more about how you can improve your accessibility, call Beth on 01763 209001.

Beth Jamieson is Clarion’s Marketing Assistant. Find out more about the company, who support this website, here.


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