As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, retail stores and other organizations have adapted to physical distancing requirements during the pandemic. Many of these adaptations are also practices that make customer service more accessible for customers with disabilities. In the post-COVID-19 future, more people may recognize the value of adapting service to meet customers’ diverse needs. For example, more service providers may notify customers about temporary service disruptions after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Temporary Service Disruptions After the COVID-19 Pandemic
As service providers encourage physical distancing and other safety procedures, they have made many changes to their business practices. In addition, they have informed customers about these changes, which may include:
- Contactless procedures for purchasing items in person
- New or expanded opportunities to shop or receive service online
- New or changed delivery options
- Hours of operation
Moreover, as the government allows more businesses to re-open, organizations make on-going changes to these new procedures. For instance, they may:
- Ask customers to wait for pick-up in new locations
- Develop more options for service online or by phone
- Increase their hours
As businesses and other organizations make these changes, they must continue to keep potential customers informed.
In the same way, service providers can adapt just as proactively to improve the ways they notify customers with disabilities about temporary service disruptions.
AODA Requirements for Notifying Customers of Temporary Service Disruptions
Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service providers must notify customers about temporary service disruptions. Temporary service disruptions happen when services that customers with disabilities might rely on are temporarily unavailable. There are many reasons for service disruptions, including:
- Scheduled maintenance on structural features, such as:
- Accessible parking spaces
- Unexpected events, such as:
- An out-of-order accessible washroom
- A broken elevator or lift
- Technical difficulties, such as with:
- Captioning equipment
- Teletypewriter (TTY) technology
- Hardware for making alternate formats, like photo-copiers or Braille printers
- Software, like screen readers or speech recognition programs
- Systems for broadcasting audio or visual announcements
- Staff shortages, such as the absence of:
- An ASL interpreter
When and How to Notify
In the same way that service providers keep the public informed of changes due to COVID-19, they must also alert the public to disruptions in accessible service. When a provider knows in advance about a coming disruption, such as elevator maintenance, the provider should give the public advance notice as well. When the disruption is unexpected, like a technological glitch with captioning equipment, the provider should let the public know as soon as possible. Moreover, notifications should include:
- What the disrupted service is
- The reason for the disruption
- How long the disruption will last
- Alternate methods of service
These details will help customers plan how they want or need to proceed. Some customers may prefer to use the service they normally use and will want to know when it will be available again. Others may need service at a certain time, even if the service they normally use is still disrupted. They will need to know how the provider will meet their needs in spite of the disruption. Some alternate methods of service include meeting customers outside the premises or on the first floor, using other communication strategies, or recommending other locations where the customer can access needed services immediately.
Furthermore, providers must post notifications in different places and formats so that all customers have access to them. Providers can post signs outside their doors and next to the disrupted service. Additionally, they should alert all customer service personnel to the disruption so that staff can give customers the information in person. Finally, they should also post notifications on their websites and on phone-answering systems.
Customer service providers have learned that they can quickly react to changing work conditions and share the changes with their customers. Therefore, staff can continue to use these strategies to notify customers with disabilities about temporary service disruptions after the COVID-19 pandemic.