Serving Customers with Disabilities

Whether it’s in-person, by phone, chat or e-mail, anyone in a customer-facing role should receive training specifically on how to serve customers with disabilities without being offensive.

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Types of Support

The first rule of providing support to customers with disabilities is HAVE MULTIPLE MODALITIES that use different senses. Calling is a hassle for people who are deaf and those who have speech issues, but is probably the preferred mechanism for people who are blind. Accessible chat is great for people who use dictation or those who can type fast but might not be the preferred mechanism for those who have slow internet access.

Phone Support

Legend: CwD==Customer with Disability, CSR == Customer Support Rep

Train all CSRs to work from a checklist of info they need from customers using assistive technology

Above and beyond the basic questions that a CSR would normally ask, your IT personnel will need to know all assistive technology being used and their versions. Browser versions are also useful. Firefox 57 was notoriously unusable with NVDA.

Have “point people” to take calls from customers with disabilities

If you have specific individuals identified to take calls from people with disabilities (or for bonus points, CSRs with disabilities to take calls from customers with disabilities) that will provide the best experience for everyone.

Train your CSRs on how to take a relay call

Relay calls are what people who can’t speak clearly use when they have to make a phone call This kind of training doesn’t take much time (30–45 minutes including role playing, if that) and it’s worth doing it rather than having them fumble when they take the call.

Accessible Chat

My deaf daughter thinks accessible chat is the best thing ever. She can’t communicate on a landline and hates making voice calls in general. The accessible chat I personally like the best is Olark. Apple Business Chat is good too, but I’ve heard anecdotally that it is hard to get Apple’s attention when you are a small business.

E-mail

E-mail is another good and relatively low cost mechanism for customers with disabilities to request help. Just remember that your response content INCLUDING the template the email is based on must be accessible. Assuming HTML is being used for email, that means:

  • good color ratio for text as measured against whatever background color it happens to be hitting
  • using proper HTML to construct tables
  • Make sure buttons, links, etc. get announced as the objects they represent
  • Close captioning for every video, and a described audio soundtrack when needed (preferably in a link below the video player) for all videos
  • Good header structure, if your email is longer than one “page”. Pages are relative on tech, so you will have to guess on this one. If you read your email out loud in your head and it is taking too long, you probably need headers.
  • Set the default language for the email, and any words that are NOT in the default language.

In-person service

When providing service in person, staff need to understand not only the language that they should use with the customer with a disability, but the actions that they should take (and should not take). Some non-exhaustive examples include:

Conclusion

  1. Customers with disabilities are a very lucrative market. The numbers vary widely depending on who you are citing, but a common one is that disability influences $8 trillion in general spending and $1 trillion in discretionary spending (spending on stuff you DON’T have to buy).
  2. People in general don’t like it when corporations treat people with disabilities badly. So if your company is caught discriminating against someone with a disability, you will lose business from everyone, not just the group of people with the same disability
  3. Training is the cure for everything related to customer service, and how to treat people with disabilities is no exception.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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