Stage, Theatre & TV5th July 2014

Sky a Leading Light in Ignorant Decision Making

Sky's discriminatory decision making highlights ignorance about Deaf and HoH customers

by Sarah Lawrence

As a Deaf Sky customer myself, like many other Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, I was delighted to learn of Sky’s ‘U-Turn’ on the recently announced policy to make all of their customers ring a Call Centre to cancel their subscription. Quite frankly, I thought that decision might breach Equality legislation in any case, but it is always better for companies to recognise their error earlier, rather than putting people through the trouble of formal legislative challenge.

Whilst I initially saw the U-turn as good news and it has been widely reported on as such, I actually found myself thinking more about how Sky got themselves into this mess in the first place and how their decision making is similar to lots of other big corporate bodies who give little or no regard to Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers when making policy decisions.

My disappointment is that I thought we had learned through well publicised incidents many years ago, that an attitude towards one size fits all decision making, will always cause difficulty for someone, and yet Sky’s decision making took exactly that approach. ‘The Telegraph have highlighted problems with Sky’s cancellation procedure so they react by making a decision for ALL their customers, without ever thinking about the impact of that decision on their diverse customer base’. Are decisions like that underpinned by arrogance, a lack of awareness, or simply because they don't care about their customers, I don’t know, but what I do know is that it is an inappropriate way to make policy decisions in a diverse society.

Good, well-meaning, thoughtful organisations use what are called ‘equality impact assessments’ to look at the outcome of decisions in a diverse world. Building a new building without ramps and lifts would make that building inaccessible to wheelchair users. Telling customers they have to ring a call centre to cancel their contract, makes that organisation inaccessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. Completion of a simple equality impact assessment would have highlighted that outcome.

Sky of course are not alone, in the same way that this is not an isolated decision within Sky that discriminates against Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers. Many organisations that have moved to Call Centre contact with their customers also fail to provide equality of service and equal access, with slow recognition of those discriminatory practices and even slower adoption of solutions.

What is particularly galling about Sky and other technology companies, is that they want us to buy into their use of state of the art technology and yet they are not using that same technology to provide good services to their Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers. In fact, quite the opposite can be true, with lines of communication stopped, always in favour of a spoken phone call.

Like many companies Sky treat Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers the same as everyone else, that’s equality right? Treating everyone the same. No, it isn’t, to enjoy Sky channels I need something other than the spoken commentary. Some programmes have subtitles, but many do not, so my viewing habits are dictated by programmers who are deciding which of the Sky provided channels will have subtitles.  Despite programmes being inaccessible, I am expected to pay the same as customers who can access and enjoy all of those programmes. Even if giving me parity was rocket science, we have been landing people on the moon for donkey's years, so I no longer consider my quest for equality to be unreasonable.

Equality is not a word in a policy document. It is not a good intention or a word to use in a public speech. Equality is an experience and it is about time Deaf and Hard of Hearing people started to enjoy an equal service rather than dread many of the current inequal ones.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Entertainment / Stage, Theatre & TV

5th July 2014