Deaf Life15th January 2014

Tech Companies Upholding Deaf Suppression

Mobile phone contracts are not deaf friendly and service providers seem determined to maintain anti deaf usage plans

by Sarah Lawrence

With my two year mobile phone contract coming to an end in February, I started shopping around for the best new deals. I have contacted a number of the main mobile phone providers and asked them whether they provde a deaf friendly package.

The number of minutes offered are very attractive, but as I never ring anyone on the phone, I have always paid for a service that I simply will not use. Sadly, none of the companies I contacted have said they offer a plan that is ideal and tailored for my needs.

Like many deaf people I love the new mobile phone technology. I use wifi and 3G frequently to access information on the web, contact people through Facetime and other live video apps and manage emails, but that means my data usage can be quite high. The problem is that depending on your contract that can get really expensive, very quickly.  Frightened of incurring those costs (my son ran up a pretty hefty bill), I have not been using the bits of the phone that are really helpful to me, as often as I would like and I am paying for things that I do not need.

Conversely, in respect of the minutes used, I probably haven't used 10% of one months allowance throughout the whole 2 years of the contract! I also use text a lot and despite using only 1 or 2 of my 250 telephone call minutes a month, I have also had to watch my use of text, because one text too many and I get charged.

As I sat and pondered the lack of provision by mobile phone providers, I started thinking about why none of the companies were offering deaf friendly contracts. With an estimated 10 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the UK and a significant number of those having a mobile phone, the metrics are there to offer something suitable. I have no doubt deaf customers would vote with their feet if a decent contract was put on the table. So why aren't the mobile phone companies taking action?

Sadly, I could come to only one informed conclusion, they are ignoring the needs of deaf customers and happy to contribute to their suppression. I believe the culture within the mobile phone sector is anti-deaf, if not intentionally, then certainly inadvertently. If I had a pound for every letter Ive had asking me to telephone them, I would be quite rich now!

As an example of the dismissive nature of some of these businesses, one of the leading providers dispensed with email contact and the ability to make complaints via email nearly twelve months ago, with all enquiries having to be done via telephone to call handling centres or by sending a letter. This decision harms deaf customers far more than any other group, but it seems such decisions can be made without recourse, despite the fancy wording of their social responsibility policies.

My biggest worry is that in respect of the many services and products I buy into as a Deaf customer, mobile phone technology is probably the easiest one to explain why I need someone to think about how I might use that product or service best and then design something that is deaf friendly. With only the tiniest of thought, I am sure the penny would drop. Despite that, nothing changes.

My wider concern is the message this gives to other service sectors. The limitations of the mobile phone service for me are clear and obvious, but are totally ignored. If mobile phone companies can continue to hold that line because they don't give a stuff, where is the insentive for other business sectors to be more considerate and responsive towards their deaf customers.

How wonderful it would be to garner enough interest and energy from the 10 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the UK to all cancel mobile phone contracts on the same day and not to renew them until deaf friendly plans were made available. I wonder how long that would take?

If they wont change simply because it's the right thing to do, how great would it be to force change because we start to affect their bottom line. I can dream!!

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Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

15th January 2014