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Accessibility Revisited: Who is Your Fort Knox Office Serving?


By:  Evelina Silveira, President,  Diversity at Work

In my line of work, I do a lot of web research and phone calling, gaining exposure to a host of companies and services.  It amazes me how many barriers organizations have placed on the public that they serving.  Whether it is a non-profit or a private company, you are often faced with one barrier after another, sometimes falling into a deep black hole of an automated message or an email address as a point of contact.

For example, the other day I found myself contacting agencies that serve some of our most vulnerable populations:  people with addictions, mental health issues and new immigrants.  All I wanted was to speak to someone about training, but there was no live person to answer the phone.  I thought to myself:  What if I had been someone with an addiction that finally got up enough courage to call for help, only to find that I not only had to listen to a number of options to choose from, I would have to remember them all to make the correct selection?  Unfortunately, dialing “zero’ was not an option to get to a live person, it just sent me back to the main menu.   Similarly, I have encountered this automated approach to mental health services, and anger management programs.   It says a lot about our society when a pleasant, warm and caring voice over the telephone replaced by a cold inaccessible automated system that screams out:  “You’re not important enough to have a staff person speak to you directly”  or “We want you as our clients, but on our terms”. And yet, this is exactly what these people need who are in crisis and seeking help.  Someone who is willing to take the time to speak to them when no one else has.  A credit card-like company approach to streaming calls is not the best recipe for a not for profit to take.

Despite fielding thousands of calls each day, the universities and hospitals do have a person answering the telephone.  It is good public relations, and provides a service that is quickly becoming extinct.  Bravo to them, for recognizing that people need information and going through an menu of options is inaccessible for some people with different kinds of barriers.

It is also interesting to note the new trend with leaving telephone numbers off a business’s website.  In some cases, all that is left is an email address.  Others will make it virtually impossible for you to contact them, even if you are their customer.  The message to the consumer is:   “Don’t call us, maybe we will call you if you leave us an email“.

With our increasing emphasis on accessibility and customer service standards we need to bear in mind that the telephone is the first point of contact for many people –especially our most vulnerable.  While machines have been successful in replacing many tasks designed for humans, a kind, well-informed person on the other end of the line makes a difference.  Let’s not forget that accessible customer service standards are the law now in Ontario.  If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to ask yourself :  Is my organization open to the public or have I created a Fort Knox nightmare for my customers and clients?

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