In October 2015, the TIO held its annual meeting with its Critical Friends Group. The Critical Friends Group, an initiative of TIO’s current Disability Action Plan, was formed to provide advice to the TIO about increasing accessibility to, and raising awareness of the TIO’s service, and to highlight telecommunications issues that impact people with disabilities. This year’s meeting was attended by TIO staff and representatives from Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, People with Disability Australia, Vicdeaf, Able Australia, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Carers Australia.
The Critical Friends Group discussed a range of issues including
- deafblind consumers not being able to access telco customer service staff
- phone plans offering calls at the expense of data, and how these plans disadvantage deaf consumers who do not use voice calls
- bills in formats not suitable for people with vision impairments, and
- inadequate training of telco staff in products suited to people with disabilities.
Deafblind consumers not being able to access telco customer service staff
Many deafblind people communicate through tactile Auslan and require the services of an onsite Auslan interpreter. Representatives said that deafblind consumers can find it difficult to access customer service in stores because many service providers do not have arrangements in place to engage with Auslan interpreters. We were told that some providers consider an interpreter to be a carer only and not a person with authority to act for a client. The same constraint does not apply to a person who speaks a language other than English and who communicates using the Telephone Interpreter Service.
Phone plans offering calls at the expense of data
We were advised by the Critical Friends Group that deaf consumers rely heavily on data and SMS but do not use voice calls which often form a substantive part of their mobile plans. Representatives told us that deaf consumers feel that many mobile phone plans are not suitable for them because they are tailored to hearing customers and there is no option to replace calls credits with more data.
Bills in formats not suitable for people with vision impairments
Representatives told us that some people with disabilities, in particular people with vision impairments, were not able to pay their bills in a timely manner because they were not in a format they could access. For example, vision impaired consumers may struggle to find relevant information on paper bills, whereas they may be able to access to a software solution to help them access information on electronic bills. These accessibility issues may lead to late fees being charged if bills are not paid on time.
Inadequate training of telco staff
Critical Friends Group members said that despite recent improvements in products for people with disabilities, inadequate training of telco staff about the products available, and the complexity of the products has made it difficult for consumers with disabilities to identify products that address their individual needs.
Issues raised by representatives in the Critical Friends Group prompted some interesting discussion and promoted the valuable exchange of information among the participants.
For the TIO, the meeting of the Critical Friends Group and the issues we discussed will be valuable as we consider how consumers with disabilities access our own service going into the future.