CRTC hears deaf, hard of hearing consumers face barriers to fair wireless plans


The CRTC hearing looking into aggressive and misleading sales practices from Canada’s big telecom providers heard Monday that the deaf and deaf-blind community face barriers in both accessing information and negotiating affordable wireless plans.

The Deaf Wireless Canada Consultative Committee, Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada, Canadian National Society of the Deaf-Blind and Deafness Association Advocacy Nova Scotia appeared before the full commission panel this morning.

Their presentation included the finding that 61 per cent of DDBHH (Deaf, Deaf-Blind, or Hard of Hearing) consumers reported having a hard time getting an accessibility plan from their wireless provider. 81 per cent of deaf or hard of hearing customers surveyed reported having to communicate using pen and paper in-store. Just 19 per cent were aware they could request a sign language interpreter to meet with retail staff under Wireless Code 2.0, while 72 per cent felt that the telecom companies made little effort to accommodate DDBHH consumers.

Lisa Anderson-Kellet, chair of the DWCC-CSSSC, told the panel that lack of knowledge on the part of wireless sales staff about text to 9-1-1 and accessibility plans is part of the challenge, including refusals because employees aren’t aware the plans exist.

Anderson-Kellet cautioned against what she calls the current “one size fits all” approach that has some DDBHH consumers paying $230/month for 15 GB plans due to video calling needs.

She also pointed to instances where those wanting a phone upgrade for better quality of video calls were disallowed the accessibility plan, as well as situations where consumers were asked to pay the full amount for a new phone upfront or were denied applying discounts to their accessibility plan.

Among the groups’ recommendations is to make tech available in-store that would allow the deaf and hard of hearing community to be able to communicate with retail sales staff through an iPad equipped with ASL (American Sign Language) and LSQ (Quebec Sign Language), and hire staff from the DDBHH community in-store and at the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) level to see through complaints.

The groups also see the need for wider implementation of VRS technology, a basic telecommunications service that enables people with hearing or speech disabilities who use sign language to communicate with voice telephone users. The sign language user connects to a VRS operator using internet-based videoconferencing.

The hearing continues through Oct. 26. Listen in here.

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