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Big Broadband ISPs Must Improve UK Support for Deaf Users

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 (11:57 am) - Score 797

Living with a hearing problem is no fun and there can be different forms of such disabilities, which means a solution that works for one group may be unusable for others. Suffice to say that we expect the largest broadband ISPs to cater for such scenarios but a new investigation by Cable.co.uk suggests some are falling short.

Imagine the situation, you’re deaf and need to contact your ISP but all your attempts to get the problem resolved via email or online chat are thwarted because the support agent says, “Sorry, in order to get this fixed you have to phone our support department directly as we can’t deal with it via this medium.” You reply: “But I’m deaf, can’t you..” and the agent says, “I’m sorry sir, but you have to call!” You lose the will to live.

Invariably some people will end up suffering the indignity of having to plead for some understanding from their provider or awkwardly needing to ask a friend or family member to help out, which is assuming that your provider’s GDPR security arrangements even allow them to speak with a third-party. Speaking as somebody who is hard of hearing myself, albeit not completely deaf, such challenges are uncomfortably familiar.

The scale of the problem becomes easier to understand when you realise that roughly 11 million UK people suffer from hearing loss, which could rise to 15.6 million by 2035. In fairness Ofcom does require ISPs to offer features such as Next Generation Text Relay Services (NGTS), SMS based contact for the emergency services, priority fault repair (fixed line only) and third-party bill management (more details) but these don’t always work.

For example, NGTS relies on a working phone line but if that line becomes faulty and online support refuses to help then you’ll quickly run into problems. Similarly some ISPs (e.g. BT, Three UK, O2, EE, Vodafone, Sky Broadband and Virgin Media) offer a Video Relay Service (VRS) that connects to a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter but many cannot can sign (same for lip reading) and in any case support agents may refuse to talk with an interpreter (i.e. because for security they’re often only allowed to speak with the account holder directly).

The investigation by Cable.co.uk highlights all of these issues and some ugly examples. Broadly speaking they note that Virgin Media and Sky Broadband do a reasonably good job in catering for those with hearing problems, while BT seems to exist at the opposite end and is accused of having the “worst website for finding accessibility features” (Vodafone, EE, Plusnet and TalkTalk’s pages are similarly weak, but offer more info. than BT).

A Spokesperson for the UK Council of Deafness (UKCoD) said:

“We believe Ofcom should ensure that accessibility is considered in future in the approval process so that vulnerable people do not become disadvantaged as a result.

Ofcom needs to review the way it regulates with regards accessibility. Currently access is an afterthought to the development of new technology.”

In extreme cases some deaf users may also face higher bills and charges, some of which can stem from penalties incurred against them simply because the ISP failed to provide a working avenue to actually communicate and resolve what could have otherwise been a very simple problem.

The full article, which makes for a good read, includes responses from TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Plusnet, which all highlighted what services they offer to deaf users and spoke of their commitment toward such customers. Sadly neither BT nor Sky chose to comment.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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6 Responses
  1. Avatar Marty says:

    A member of the family I have has this problem the only solution that I can see being worthwhile would be a telephone with an led screen to somehow interpret the speech down the phone line provided by the ISP to make matters easier. In general if you are blind, partially sighted, deaf, or have no disabilities customer support from India is an nightmare at best.

    1. Avatar Marty says:

      And in the UK at the same time in some cases

    2. Avatar Marc says:

      I think that there are some companies who launched some mobile applications for the deaf and hard of hearing, not sure if it is available in UK but djanah launched an application that allow you to use interpreters for such phone calls https://www.djanah.com/en/
      try and reach them.
      I’m from Belgium so for us a lot of features are free and it is very helpful

  2. Avatar John says:

    Sky have a dedicated accessibility team as a one stop shop for contacting them. https://accessibility.sky.com

  3. Avatar hugh reid says:

    I had this problem with talktalk about a year ago and contacted the chat line.I was transfered to dedicated team who could not have been more helpful

  4. Avatar Sky Customer Service UK says:

    Sky Helpline Contact Customer Service on 0844 306 9107. Use this Tata Sky customer care number to book a new connection without any hassle. You can check more customer care number on this website https://24-7helpline.co.uk

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