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Sky hearing impairment issue highlights importance of accessibility

Friday, July 4th 2014 by Cable.co.uk
Issue of accessibility in telecoms highlighted by Sky hearing impairment decision (Liquid Library)
Sky has announced it will allow hearing-impaired customers to cancel their contracts via email.

Common sense prevailed this week, when Sky took the eminently sensible decision to continue allowing hearing-impaired customers to cancel their subscriptions without having to phone up and speak to one of the pay TV giant's call centre staff.

The satellite broadcaster had – unsurprisingly – attracted a fair deal of criticism for instructing customers that written cancellations would no longer be permitted, but has now seen the error of its ways. As such, if you have a hearing impairment, you'll still be able to cancel your Sky account via email or textphone (although letters won't be allowed, for security reasons).

Accessibility – what are the legal requirements?

Coverage of the story brought attention to the issue of accessibility and how the broadband industry deals with it.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it's against the law to discriminate against someone because of their disability, unless this behaviour can be justified. In practice, that means it's illegal to refuse disabled people service; provide a disabled person with a service on different terms to a non-disabled user; offer a disabled customer an inferior service; and sell goods or services that are unreasonably difficult – or even impossible – for disabled people to access.

What are broadband providers doing about accessibility?

As the telecoms sector attracts a high level of customer contact, providers have adopted a wide range of accessibility-related measures. Here are some of them:

Virgin Media recently introduced a new video relay service designed to help deaf and hearing-impaired customers make the most of the cable company's next-generation broadband, TV and home phone products. It works by connecting users to an online sign language-qualified interpreter, who will then speak to Virgin Media's customer service staff in real time.

Sky offers a variety of services, from subtitles and audio description to enhance the TV viewing experience, to an easy-grip Sky+ remote control created especially for blind and partially sighted customers and those with with reduced dexterity.

BT supports textphone and Text Relay service, and also offers a priority fault repair scheme for disabled customers. The telecoms giant seeks to improve its policies and practices through its Customer Inclusion Leadership Panel, made up of experts in the field of disability and ageing.

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