Steve Hurley: Feeling helpless after breaking down on a busy road showed me mobile reception in Norfolk needs to improve

Posted on November 3, 2016

I am profoundly Deaf, 43, a British Sign Language user. I view myself positively as a confident and capable member of the community. I work full time mostly with hearing people and am successful in life.

I had a bad experience recently and it made me think about my deafness in a negative way which I hate doing. But this was really because I was disappointed by no equal access to services. Technology let me down and this made me feel helpless and at risk.

Steve Hurley

Steve Hurley

I was driving back to Norwich to work. Driving along the A140, near Diss. I had been to Essex for the weekend. My car broke down and barriers in communication made me feel powerless with no choices and very alone.

I had expected a situation like this. Everyone knows that cars are like time bombs, its only a matter of time before there’s a bang from the engine. Cars seem very ready to die quietly or with a bang and go to their car heaven. For me, it was like the end of my turn sitting in one of those “Go Kart” you sit in at a theme park. My time was up and there was no more “go” when I put my foot on the accelerator pedal… Sighing to myself and thinking I needed to cancel my meetings that day, I parked my car as safely as I could on the side of the road.

Everyone in Norfolk knows the A140 is awful. It has too much traffic for a single carriageway road. I knew this day would come, somewhere, for some reason, so I was prepared for a breakdown. Even on this awful road in the middle of nowhere I thought I would be ok.

My insurance company, Hastings, had assured me with their brochure that they provide a breakdown recovery service. I chose them because this was accessible by text and provided me a mobile number.

I thought I had nothing to worry about apart from the repair bill from the garage. Everything was arranged for a situation like this. Their number was stored in my phone. I just needed to use it.

I text their number for the deaf and hard of hearing and waited. My waiting continued for half an hour. In the meantime to keep myself busy and update the world, I also text my work, friends and family. I felt confident letting them know the car situation and not to worry. It was all sorted. That felt good. Everyone knows it feels good to be in control of difficulty and have choices.

By this time the rush hour was busy, cars and lorries rushed past my vehicle making the car shake in a rather disturbing manner. The best thing to keep safe was to get out of the car, everyone knows that. So I did.

Standing nervously on the roadside I realised that no one had replied to my text messages. I hadn’t even heard from that friend who always replies even if she’s on the loo. This struck me as strange so I checked the signal strength – nothing…

There would be more signal in the middle of the ocean than I had. I tried balancing on one leg, arm out, attempting to find a bar of signal. My phone held up to the gods in heaven and my fingers crossed… but again, apart from some cheerful waves from passing cars, nothing.

Being a resourceful kind of man, I calmly thought about my options. I had a picture in my mind of the McDonald’s breakfast I was waiting for and checked my work mobile. One bar of signal. Finally!! Just enough to break through this barrier to communication. I sent the texts again from this phone and started to get replies. My phone flashed as normal communication to the outside world started again. All was well.

But that wasn’t the end of my problems. The mobile text number Hasting’s had given me did not respond to any of my messages. I contacted my office Interpreter who was patiently waiting for me in the city and asked for her to try calling it. She did. It was dead, silent, not working. Just like my car.

Due to a lack of mobile internet signal I was unable to research any other contact numbers for my Breakdown Service and had to pass this task on to my Interpreter. She googled the details and finally got through to their Call Centre.

My Interpreter in the city then had to juggle texting me for details and talking to them on the phone. This three-way conversation might have been easier using smoke signals or maybe, a pigeon with one wing and blinkers carrying my messages. My interpreter and I had to make three calls like this, me texting her and she calling from the office until finally a rescue van came.

Eventually after a wait of 3 and a half hours a recovery vehicle arrived. While I was waiting a cowboy repair man stopped and tried to help but luckily I realised he did not have ID and was probably going to be expensive. Again I felt at risk.

I had lots of problems with communication with the recovery service. He didn’t know how to talk to a deaf person. I had to do all the work and make myself understood. He didn’t help me at all and just plugged things into the engine computer and said very little. He indicated he needed to tow me to my garage and I got in the front with him. By this time I was dying of thirst and very hungry. He refused to give me water even though he had a bottle there in the van.

When we finally got to a garage, he and the man there talked to each other and not to me. I had to say very clearly “Hello, this is MY car, what is going on?” and let them know they needed to write things down. They expected me to call a different garage to make enquiries about the gearbox and, again, I had to remind them I was deaf. It was very frustrating and embarassing.

Looking back I think – I did what everything the right way… I was prepared, but the system let me down. I had membership for breakdown recovery and a phone number to text saved in my phone. My direct text access to the company had been cut off. They had given me a number that did not work. The poor mobile signal and no internet meant I had few options.

Emergency Services are too busy already, flagging down a passer by to call 999 for me would be a waste of Police’ time but what other options did I have?

The friends and family I could normally have text to help me were either on holiday or busy with work. If it hadn’t been for that one bar of signal on my work phone I had nothing. My only option was my work Interpreter. Texting her and getting all the information through was a nightmare and took a long time.

I feel normally that I can deal with things myself without needing “help”. I shouldn’t need to rely on another person anyway. What if it had happened when I couldn’t access an Interpreter? I was alone. At risk. I was not able to be that person I normally am, confident and capable, in control.

This is 2016 – come on!! Let’s raise awareness about the mobile phone signal and Broadband provision in Norfolk and other poor areas, get it seen as important. Let’s petition public service providers to not only provide accessible information but also access to their services for deaf and hard of hearing people. Let’s turn this negative experience into a positive.

Since writing this I have been featured in the Eastern Daily Press Newspaper in Norfolk. They are leading a successful campaign to improve broadband and mobile signal provision in our area.

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