Clare Vale, managing director at Sign Solutions, speaks to us about why a growing number of businesses are recognising the need to improve accessibility to their Deaf customers and why others should follow suit.
The Department of Health estimates that there are around 130,000 profoundly Deaf people in the UK. If we include those that are affected in some way by hearing loss then this constitutes around one in eight of the UK’s population. In business terms, if you’re offering a service to the general public, it’s likely that a significant proportion of your customer base is either Deaf or has some form of hearing difficulty.
It’s hugely important therefore that businesses take action to improve their accessibility to Deaf people. Not only does this increase your customer base and play a big part in being a socially responsible company but it also means that you will be fulfilling legal requirements under the Equalities Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to make your services accessible.
Ed Vaizey, the Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, has spent years campaigning for businesses – in particular those in the telecoms sector – to adopt Video Relay Service for their Deaf customers. Video Relay Service allows Deaf people to access an interpretation service via video link from their desktop, tablet or smartphone and aims to provide them with the same levels of access as hearing people when dealing with communication we encounter every day.
Ed Vaizey’s campaigning has led to many large FTSE companies taking steps to make their businesses more accessible. Most recently, we have welcomed on board Virgin Media, EE, Goldman Sachs and the Financial Ombudsman, as well as The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Walsall College. This is certainly encouraging and is an important step forward but more still needs to be done to improve customer experiences on a wider scale for Deaf people.
Adopting a Video Relay Service requires very little investment in time from a business as all that is needed is a simple website link. Teaming up with a good quality supplier will provide additional benefits such as ensuring the access you are providing is easy to find and meets high level point-to-point encrypted security. The supplier should also be able to advise which other areas of a company’s customer-facing points (for example, websites and marketing collateral) need improving in terms of accessibility.
Deaf people are part of a large community and those businesses adopting services such as Video Relay are finding that they are able to attract more customers and expand their business reach. With the low cost of Video Relay Services and improved broadband speeds in the UK, there really is no excuse for businesses not to provide the very best in accessibility for their Deaf customers.