Reasonable Adjustment or Acceptable Ignorance

Yesterday I found out that my energy supplier did not offer accessible home display units when they installed smart metres and I was advised to contact customer support. I did so and the person in customer service claimed to have never heard of accessible home display units and on asking a colleague he said that they also did not know of their existence. At the end of the call I was feeling very angry. I contacted the RNIB and the gentleman I spoke to did some research and noted that ScottishPower, my energy supplier, were one of the few companies that did not offer these units.

I considered this problem overnight and decided to take a pragmatic view of the situation. Having a non-excessible display unit just meant that the situation was exactly the same to me as it would be if I did not have a smart metre installed, it would just mean yet another useless object in the kitchen. The whole situation seemed strange to me as ScottishPower had been very good in other aspects of my disability such as sending my bills and power usage information on CD every time I advised them of my metre readings, and they also set up my priority status if there was ever a power cut in my area. I decided I would just keep hassling them about the availability of these metres in the future.

This led me to consider how other companies dealt with me when they knew I was blind and I realise some of the problems were due to the person I was speaking to not being aware of what facilities were now available for blind people to access information.

One such company insists on sending me text messages to my home phone and then my home phone will read out the message in a very poor electronic voice and at a speed where it is difficult to note down any important information. I contacted them about this problem and made them aware that if they sent text messages to my mobile phone they would also be read out to me but the person I was speaking to did not realise this which on the face of it is quite acceptable because they would never have needed to use this feature so why should they know about it, and I also mentioned that this is the same for any emails that are sent to me.

It also took me a while to convince another company that it was perfectly all right for them to send me letters as I could scan them into my computer and the computer would read them to me and it also meant I had a hardcopy for a friend to check and point out if it needed signing and help me locate where to sign. I also mentioned that any email sent to me would also be read out to me but obviously I would not be able to sign and return these.

One of the best responses I received was when I phoned a bank because I wanted to change my bank account though the first person I spoke to said that I must do this online but when I said I was blind and might miss out some important information doing it online he transferred me to a special disability unit within the bank call centre and the process was completed over the telephone. I was also set up with Internet banking with the assurance that I could still use telephone banking if I was having difficulty but I did state that I did not want mobile banking on my phone.

I have had some interesting conversations with call centres regarding my disability and the usual one that amazes people is that when they want to give me a reference number to note down or the telephone number I often state that I cannot do that. This is because if I attempted to write down any information I would not know what I was writing on, know if the pen was actually working, and what would I do with it anyway once I’d written it down because I cannot see to read it. All these are logical if you think about it but in a wayit is my fault because I should be prepared to dictate the information given into some device whenever I call a business asking for information.

So I suppose what I’m trying to say in this article is that because we live in a world of blindness and accessibility is high in our priorities a lot of people are totally unaware of what is available and unless we tell them they are not going to know.