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September is Deaf Awareness Month. Happy Deaf Awareness month.

I would like to discuss accessibility as part of deaf awareness month. I am a business owner, running a virtual digital agency for clients nationwide. So, let’s talk about customer service. Accessibility and inclusion in customer service. So, how accessible and inclusive is your customer service?

Customer service comes in many forms. It can be tech support. Let’s talk about that – from a deaf person’s point of view. One of my biggest beef is with software companies and their tech support. Most software companies use chat for their support. That is awesome. I used to be able to reach chat and then “chat” with a technician to resolve a software problem. It might take about 5 minutes. Then we’re done! Maybe in some cases, 20 minutes at most. But lately I noticed a trend. You can use still use chat to reach support, but their response is not so much to chat with you but to send a video link.

A video link. Unless it is a really simple step-by-step video that clearly explains how to solve the problem, what good is a video link if the video is not captioned? That is the case 100% of the time when they send me a video. None of the videos I have ever received are captioned. What am I supposed to do with the video link, if I cannot hear what they are saying? I am not going to try to “guess” what they are trying to show me. I do enough guessing as it is in my life. As a lip reader. You have no idea how exhausting it is at times.

Do I have to Tell You?

I have to go back to chat and explain to the tech that I am deaf and that the video is of no use to me. Could they try to explain their answer to me in chat? Or send me documentation that I can read? I had a couple of instances where one went silent on me for several minutes as if he wasn’t sure what to do next since it wasn’t part of the “procedure manual” and another one tried to send me another video link AFTER I explained to him that I could NOT hear what he was saying in the video.

Anyways – if the companies are trying to shorten the amount of time their tech support staff are spending on calls by having them send videos, it is not going to work for accessibility. In my case, as a deaf person, I am going to ask that you stay on chat and “chat” with me. Otherwise, you as a business are going to invest time in creating “canned videos” that are captioned that your technicians can send for common or most requested problems. Then they are going to have to stay on the line for those problems that aren’t “standard.”

Customer Experience Rules Over Everything Else

As a business owner, I understand about processes, procedures, as well as efficiency, in order to increase revenue and profitability. I get that. But customer service and customer experience is vital aspect of every business in terms of long-term success. It is the one “competitive differentiator” that can make or break you from the others. That applies to everyone – including those who have disabilities.

Business owners cannot ignore those who have disabilities. Not just for ADA reasons. That is one reason. Even though lawsuits are on the rise, we have economic power. We have political power. We have more power than we have had before due to technological advancements and the arrival of Internet. Therefore, we expect access.

Don’t be fooled thinking that this applies to large corporations only. The recent communication episode regarding to tech support I had was with a small software company, not a multibillionaire company like Microsoft. I had come close to suing them for inaccessibility due to my frustrations with limited effective communication to resolve a technical problem. I ended up getting refund back and no longer deal with the product.

Accessibility is for Everyone

Even a person who is hard of hearing (Think your aging Mom or Dad) may appreciate a video that is captioned, or person whose first language may not be English, would appreciate a video that is captioned. All videos should be captioned – professionally, not craptioned by Youtube. Yes, you read that right – “craptioned”. That is word “coined” by the lousy captioning capabilities of Youtube. It is not perfect. Hence there are many resources out there where you can get professional captioning done at a very cost-effective rate, such as REV.com. With REV.com, you can upload the video, they provide the SRT file that you just upload back up to the video. This allows you to get rid of the bad built-in captioning by YouTube, and the professional captioned file done by REV.com is installed.

With September being deaf awareness month, take the time to consider your potential customers who may have hearing loss. Walk in their shoes in your business. How accessible and inclusive is your business to address their needs?