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Wednesday, 25 May 2016 17:59

Accessibility NOT Good Enough

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As weeks go this one has not been a good one for me accessibility wise.

Two very big names in business both under performing.

It is a given, shouldn't be, but that in order to access specific accessibility requirements Companies like notice ahead of any appointment /meeting - something I learnt very early on and whilst most insist these requirements be advised over the telephone it is not until a year ago that I was able to do this.  

I am now one of the ‘lucky ones’ thanks to the incredible hearing aid technology I enjoy (ReSound Linx2).  

We should however, remember lots of deaf and deafblind people still are unable to use telephones!

My first experience this week was with Barclay’s Bank Plc.  

An appointment had been made by telephone, the lady I was to see called my mother’s mobile number.  Fortunately the call came through on her hands free device in her car whilst I was there so I was able to hear the conversation.

It was requested that a private room, well lit but with blinds in the event of bright sunlight be provided for our appointment.  

My access needs were discussed, my need for large print on all documentation and that we should discuss colours and contrasts regarding documents and bank cards.

I have just 5 degrees of sight in one eye and would need a bank card in an acceptable colour along with a good contrasting colour for the text and digits on the card so I’m able to read when need be.

This conversation took place about a month before the actual appointment.

On this occasion I needed my parents with me, as was the nature of the appointment, thankfully for me as not everything requested was available.

We did get a quiet private room with acceptable lighting and the lady I met was very pleasant, however the forms presented to me were not accessible and whilst she did point out the box for my signature I could not have read any of the form, again, thank goodness I was not alone.  

This matter was brought up and we were informed all forms can be accessed on line, great but not much use when I am sat at the appointment.

Nothing was mentioned about colours or contrasts for correspondence or cards so I decided to wait and see what they send through before taking the matter further.

We discussed at length accessibility issues and the lady we saw was happy to listen - the irony that I was opening a new business account for my ‘Accessibility Consultation Company!’

Well Barclays, not overly impressed, I think you need my input here!

Next disappointed ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ British Airways, I think not.

Again as those of us with disabilities know we need to give notice of who we are and what our needs are so it is done.

My Mum spent half an hour of holding to speak to ‘Special Assistance’ and was it worth it?

This trip was a complete surprise to me but I knew on arrival at the airport all necessary arrangements would have been made, I have been lucky to travel quite a lot so again my parents know the score and had made that half hour call.

I cannot tell you how excited, overwhelmed I was to discover another of my dreams, things I hoped to do while I still have some sight was about to come true, I was to travel to Las Vegas with my Mum and my Auntie.

We checked in nice and early to make things as stress free as possible, me with my cane, excitedly telling the lady at check in about my surprise and how I hoped I’d get to ‘see’ as much of the world as I can as it is possible my sight might go completely, she checked our seats and told us our flight was on time, all good so far.

Lunch and a couple of cocktails before our flight and feeling great until boarding the aircraft then downhill.

The usual call for those with disabilities etc to board first so cane in hand I held onto my Mum as the lighting in the tunnel to the airplane was bad, Auntie following behind with boarding cards.  

We were greeted at the aircraft door and told the way to our seats and that was that.  

I was seated, I sat through the ‘Safety Instructions’, I couldn’t see or hear them, I was not spoken to by any member of staff.

The staff then handed out menu’s, couldn't read that either.

Is this the way I deserve to be treated?  

Yes I am not travelling alone but I am an adult and I was not able to access Safety Instructions, I did not have a clue where the emergency exits were, or even the toilets!

Everybody else on the plane knew these things.  I potentially Dangerous situation and something BA have been pulled up on more than once, totally unacceptable.

When comparing with other Trans Atlantic carriers I have been provided with Safety Instructions in both large print and braille and on boarding the aircraft as one of the first passengers I would not only have a one to one briefing on safety as well as written instructions but also advice on where exits and toilets are, i.e. the nearest exit is located 5 seats ahead and is on the left.  I would  also be shown all safety equipment for me to touch and feel in the event of needing to use them, something I believe should be available on all flights.  The entertainment system would be explained in full.

I have never experienced an entertainment system inaccessible with any other carrier!

Not only was I treated this way I had no idea how the entertainment system worked or where the button was to call for help, thank goodness I was not travelling alone.

I was travelling Premium Economy and on being given instructions from my Auntie I could not access the entertainment system as the screen was too small in relation to my seating position.

Thankfully I had my iPad with me with a couple of films downloaded otherwise a 10 and a half hour flight would have been long and boring form me.

So, should I make a fuss or let it go?  One thing for sure definitely blog about it but ahead of that go speak to a member of staff and ask the question WHY?

I’m almost in disbelief at how this catalogue of mistakes has been made.

According to one staff member on my flight the error lay with the ground staff who only mentioned my deafness but not that I am deafblind!

Ok so Usher Syndrome is a hidden condition but carrying a cane is hardly inconspicuous, people notice it, the whole idea of having it.

It was on show when I checked in I even discussed why travelling is so important to me, I boarded the plane as one of the first passengers, cane in hand and it didn't dawn on one member of staff that I might be blind even if the ground staff in ‘Special Assistance’ made an unacceptable mistake.  

That said had I been just deaf, still nobody asked if I had accessed the safety instructions, absolutely appalling.

So what is the answer here?  

Already it seems to fall on those of us in need who have to make a noise to have provision in place and even when we do it isn't happening.

An innocent comment was made to me this week ‘Molly you do have very specific needs though’ but do I?  

When considering my asks for one moment consider our ageing population, hearing and sight perhaps not quite so good these days, their needs will be along similar lines as mine.

Lots of people with varying disabilities will ask for consideration so the answer is listen up and my personal message is remember there are lots of different shades of deaf, blind and deafblind, one size does not fit all.

I will continue to need banking services, just like everybody else and my work takes me all over the world so I will continue to need accessible services when travelling but who will I use for either service?

At the moment the jury is out!






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