The Customer Service Standards of the AODA state that service providers must communicate with customers in ways that take their disabilities into account. For instance, some customers will need information in accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, or accessible websites. Likewise, some customers will need communication supports, such as American Sign language (ASL) interpretation, speechreading, or captioning. In addition, providers must serve customers who use communication devices. When people think of communication devices, they may think of in-person interactions with someone using a hearing aid or a communication board. However, there are many other ways to make communication accessible remotely. As a result, organizations should be committed to serving people who use communication devices in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Communication Devices in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Hearing aids amplify sound. Some hearing aids can connect directly to other devices, such as phones. They can also connect to assistive listening systems, devices that transmit one speaker’s voice straight to a person’s ear and bypass background noise.
Some people with hearing aids hear background noise at the same volume as nearby sounds. For instance, a person might hear someone on the other side of the room as clearly as they can hear the person they are talking to. Some people might ask the person they are conversing with to move to a quieter location. Other people might prefer to use a different way of communicating, such as speechreading or writing.
Cochlear implants are prostheses in people’s inner ears that transmit sound directly to the brain. People receive a great deal of training to learn to use their implants. Some people who have implants communicate by speaking and listening. However, other people with implants prefer different ways of communicating, such as speechreading, signing, or writing.
Communication boards display images that the user can point to or focus on one by one. Boards can include combinations of:
Some people use communication boards of their own. In addition, providers may have communication boards containing words, phrases, or pictures related to their services. In either case, people may use communication boards remotely through video-calls.
Augmentative or Alternative Communication Devices
Some people type their side of a conversation into an augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) device, or use other inputting methods, such as a mouse or joystick. Others have devices that contain pre-programmed words, phrases, pictures, or messages the user can choose from. Some devices have screens that display the user’s side of the conversation. Other devices have speech output. Some people pre-record what they want to say and play it back. People may use any of these devices in a conversation over video-call.
Best Practices for Serving Customers with Communication Devices
Service providers should speak to a customer with a communication device directly instead of addressing a companion or support person. Moreover, if a provider wants clarification about how someone uses their communication device, they should ask the owner of the device, not a companion or support person. People who use communication devices are used to explaining how they work, and they may have written explanations prepared in advance.
Similarly, providers should speak naturally when talking to a customer using a communication device. Customers’ hearing aids, cochlear implants, or speechreading skills allow them to understand speech at natural speed and volume. Moreover, people using communication boards or AACs often have average hearing.
Furthermore, providers should not assume that a customer needs help simply because the providers notice the customer’s disability. Instead, providers should approach the customer and say that they are willing to offer assistance in the same way they would greet any customer. The customer can then request assistance or explain the best way for the provider to help.
It is acceptable to use language or figures of speech related to hearing or speaking, such as “Have you heard about…” or “Can you say that again?”.
Providers should focus on what customers are saying, not how they are saying it.
In addition, providers should give customers time to express themselves at their own pace. Providers should wait for customers to finish what they are saying, not state what they think the customers’ ideas are. However, once a customer is finished, a provider who wishes to make sure they have understood the customer correctly may state what they think the customer has said.
Service providers who follow these best practices can easily serve customers using communication devices in the COVID-19 pandemic.