In our turbulent times, it is even more important to notice positive developments. I look at one big boost to D/deaf access and three organisations who have made smaller, but important changes.
Looking up at the Handkerchief Tree at the National Trust's Dunham Massey gardens
As Deaf Awareness Week comes to a close, we can celebrate the big news of the BSL bill finally passing into law, and British Sign Language gaining the full status it has long deserved. Congratulations to Rosie Cooper, MP who brought the Private Members Bill and to the many hard-working campaigners who have helped make this happen.
There are also smaller positive changes happening. Recently I have seen improved access within three organisations. I want to highlight these and thank those organisations. I hope they can inspire others to do better and make their services more accessible. What they have in common was their readiness to make small, regular but significant changes for deaf customers.
This is a great initiative developed in conjunction with a group of charities which allows you to create a will free of charge. You are encouraged to leave a gift to a charity but there is no obligation. When I enquired about this, I was sent a useful list of solicitors near me who offer this service – with their phone numbers. Unfortunately that was the only contact information given. The organisation followed up with an email asking if I was planning to take up the service. I pointed out (as it clearly says on my email sign off) that I am deaf so cannot ring the solicitors’ firms. Often in this situation, you get no reply. I am happy to say that not only did the Free Wills Network send me the relevant email addresses, they also took the trouble to change their system nationally so that all the firms provide email as a way to contact them. Thank you!
I have always loved Timpson’s strong social ethos and their great service. As a clumsy individual who breaks things too easily, I have needed to take several older watches to be repaired at this firm and have explained I am deaf and communication is best via text or email. I was therefore disappointed initially when I had to wait a few weeks for communication about one older watch, and realised, when I checked my phone, that the company had left a series of voicemails and been trying to contact me using voice calls. I found a central email address and asked about this. The response was actually from a member of staff who was hard of hearing and although sympathetic, basically said ‘Our system doesn’t allow us to note different communication requirements’. So, I went in person to the shop (a slight trek) and was told my watch was still at the workshop.
I felt that communication had not been as good as it could be, so decided to make one last push and emailed again setting out the story and timeline. I pointed out that in Deaf Awareness Week it would be great to have a happy ending to my elderly watch’s story! I am glad to say that the response from Timpson’s was positive, apologising for the communication barriers and offering a good solution. The communication was then by text message and email and I believe the company will be ensuring they tweak their system to allow such preferences to be noted.
On a short break in beautiful North Wales recently, I re-joined the National Trust after disillusion under lockdown had caused me to leave. The disillusion had once again about communication which, they insisted, had to be by phone and led to unnecessary confusion for my Deaf friends and me regarding a much awaited holiday with them.
I asked about support as a deaf member. The staff mentioned the Trust’s ‘Essential Companion’ scheme. I had never been offered this previously. Using the scheme, a deaf or disabled person can join as a member and bring their companion to support them, with a special card, free of charge. At first it seemed the only way to get this was to make a phone call (!), however the person we dealt with said they could directly request the card at the same time as registering my new membership. Today, the card arrived in the post. It was so heartening to see it; it made me feel really included.
The thing these examples have in common is openness to feedback and readiness to change established systems. In most cases these changes are straightforward and require only minor adaptations. But the difference they can make to us as customers is huge.
Thank you to these organisations for listening and making positive changes. I hope others will consider doing likewise.
Happy Deaf Awareness Week!