This is Australia, as I am sure is most of the world. It has become fully automated. Phone calls are inevitably answered by robots. You call and any number of options are provided so that you can be directed to the right person. Often the right person is another robot who then processes what you need automatically. If you are patient, you may actually get to talk to someone.
In recent years Deaf and hard of hearing callers have been able to bypass calling through the National Relay Service with the introduction of Chat. You could go to a website and send a text message and bypass the robot and actually deal with a person by text. The great thing about these Chat things is that they often allowed you to bypass long queues. So, where hearing people were waiting hours and hours to get a Telstra operator the Chat feature took you straight to someone.
Sadly, even these Chat features have now been replaced by bots. You are encouraged to ask Sharon:
S: What does your enquiry relate to?
G: I’d like to buy a new washing machine.
S: Front-loader or top-loader?
S: We have some fantastic deals for you, call 08 8258 8682 and one of our friendly customer service staff will be more than happy to explain your options.
I mean, fuck, one of the few advantages we Deafies had, hearing bums have managed to take it away from us.
This week I resigned from work. I work for the Centre of Disability Studies (CDS). I reluctantly resigned because CDS are a wonderful place to work. I accepted a Team Leaders role for a disability advocacy organisation. Covid has caused all sorts of problems getting to see my family because of lockdowns and border closures. The new job will help lessen this problem. And hey!, I am an advocate at heart, so the job is ready made for me.
The great thing about this new role is that it is part-time. Gives me some time to do projects. One such project is to do my Certificate IV in Assessment and Training. This will allow me to do some adult education, teaching at TAFE and pass on my knowledge. I found one at a company called Inspire. They offer it Online and are way cheaper than others.
So, as you do, I sent an online enquiry. And within 15 minutes they called me. I kind of knew it was them cos they were the last people I provided my number to on their online enquiry form. I waited a bit, unsurprisingly an email followed:
“Hey Gary. I know you have been trying to reach me about your Cert IV TAE course. Tried calling, but you didn’t pick up – so I thought I’d better get back to you ASAP. Gary, I have critical information about your Cert IV TAE for you. Please call me back ASAP at 1800 506 509.”
Of course, I replied that I was deaf. Could they please email me and that I would be happy to correspond that way. I didn’t hear anything straight away but when I awoke in the morning there was a missed call from them and another email:
“So sorry. Still haven’t been able to reach you. Really hoping we could connect before this enrolment window ends. The course options for your Cert IV TAE are really awesome at the moment, and I reckon the delivery of this course particularly may work well for you. Gary, is there a best time for me to call you to talk you through them? Alternatively, please call me back ASAP at 1800 506 509.”
And so, once again I emailed and said that I was deaf and that I could not speak on the phone. I asked that they email me the course outline and how the course was delivered so that I could then consider whether it was right for me. I was not confident that I would get a response because I was aware that these Emails were fully automated. For all I knew Manny was a microchip of some sort. (Readers, please don’t get technical with me, I am well aware of my limited PC knowledge :-D)
So, blow me down with a feather. Manny was actually a person and he did respond to me, and in person. He took the time to outline the course in more detail. I responded and asked Manny to outline a little more of the method of delivery. What tools were used, what media was used and so on so that I could then work out what adjustments needed to be made.
Sadly, Manny blotted his copy book, or at least Inspire did. They sent me another email:
“It was great speaking with you with regards to your goals for completing the Cert IV TAE. I know at this stage you are doing some research, which is totally fine. You definitely want to make sure this course is right for you before you enrol. Based on our conversation though Gary, the Cert IV TAE may be perfect for you. By studying with Inspire – you will gain instant access to our leading course delivery platform. As well as completing your course in style – you can complete it in the shortest possible time frame you can manage.”
Of course, I had not spoken to anybody. Not Manny, not a bot, not a chat bot – No one! I had, until that time, received just the one personal email. I was naturally quite peeved and my saracasm kicked in. I sent Manny the following email:
I know that you are restrained by your firms automated system. You just sent me an email saying it was nice to have spoken with me. We didn’t speak because I am deaf. I have, however, sent emails. One that you have responded to personally.
Manny, I am very interested in enrolling, which I assume will be a feather in your cap. However, being deaf I need to understand the structure of Inspires online course to be able to pin-point accessibility issues and address them. For example, videos without captioning.
So, in the meantime, if you can give me an idea of how the course is taught, in what mediums etc I can begin to ascertain what adjustments need to happen so that I can access the course.
Of course, being one of Australia’s largest providers, I am sure Inspire will be keen to assist me to make the necessary adjustments where possible.
I look forward to your response.
I can see a few people going, “OH GAZ, that was mean!!” Possibly it was, but sometimes this world that is built fully for hearing people, with no thought to others, just gets up my nose and I have to offload somehow.
As I write this Manny has just sent another email. And this is what he says:
As we specialise in online delivery, it will be pretty hard for us to cater to you as CERT IV TAE requires you to do presentations, listening to presentations, assessments tasks etc. I would recommend that you find somewhere who can face-to-face learning which may be easier for you”
And, of course, I have replied:
You are in luck. I am the co-author of Guidelines for Supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Online. Please see the attached link. You are in luck, you have an expert who can assist you to adapt your course, not just for me, but other students who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
Let’s get to work. I look forward to studying with Inspire!
As an epilogue to that last email from Manny, automated Manny sends me another:
“Gary, as you know you have actually enquired at a great time! Our ‘Pandemic-Support Initiative’ Sale is on now… Massively Reducing the Cost of your Course! This means that you can get started with one of the best prices we have offered. Remember, this sale is until 31st August only – so why wait any longer?”
LOOOOOL – This is Australia, isn’t it fun!??? Watch this space!