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Debra Ruh

  Employability & Technology

02/04/2013

How to Provide Quality Customer Service to Customers with Disabilities

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The key to providing quality services to customers with disabilities is to remember that all customers are individuals, says Debra Ruh in this blog post, with handy tips on communicating with individuals with a range of disabilities.

Persons with disabilities come in all shapes and sizes with diverse personalities, abilities, interests, needs, and preferences – just like every other customer in any industry. People are people and using common sense and treating someone they way you would want to be treated in a service situation will take you a long way in assuring we are all included.

Remember that people with disabilities are interested in the same topics of conversations as individuals without disabilities. Call centers should be capable of fielding inquiries via TTY and email, as well as phone, fax, virtual messaging (text, IM) and regular mail.

An ‘Accessibility Call Handling Procedure’ should be put in place to ensure that every effort is made to accommodate customers with disabilities by immediately escalating inquiries that are not successfully concluded on the initial contact. Etiquette considered appropriate when interacting with customers with disabilities is based primarily on respect and courtesy. Listen and learn from what the customer tells you regarding their needs. Remember, customers with disabilities will continue to patronize businesses that welcome them, are helpful, are accessible, and provide quality services.

The principles of disability etiquette are fairly simple:

1) First and foremost, rely on common sense to guide your interactions with people with disabilities, and

2) Behave in the same courteous and respectful manner with individuals with disabilities that you would with anyone.

First and foremost, rely on common sense to guide your interactions with people with disabilities. Image courtesy ada.gov

Image: First and foremost, rely on common sense to guide your interactions with people with disabilities. Image courtesy ada.gov

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with:

Mobility

  • Allow the individual a few minutes longer to answer questions.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do or you need clarification. 
  • If offering any assistance, always wait for a response and then follow the individual’s instructions.
  • If you have to return a call, allow the phone to ring longer than usual to allow extra time for the person to reach the telephone.

Visual Impairments or Blindness

  • When speaking, state clearly who you are and use a normal tone of voice.
  • Remember to identify yourself and the person to whom you are speaking.
  • Be descriptive when giving directions; verbally give the person information that is visually obvious to individuals who can see.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do or you need clarification. 
  • If offering any assistance, always wait for a response and then follow the individual’s instructions. 

Speech 

  • If you do not understand something the individual says, do not pretend that you do. Ask the individual to repeat what he or she said and then repeat it back.
  • If you are having difficulty understanding the individual, consider emailing, texting as an alternative means of communicating, but first ask the individual if this is acceptable.
  • Concentrate on what the individual is saying and be patient. Take as much time as necessary.
  • Do not speak for the individual or attempt to finish his or her sentences.
  • If offering any assistance, always wait for a response and then follow the individual’s instructions.
  • Do not shout or raise your voice unless asked to do so.

Cognitive or Intellectual Disabilities 

  • Ask the individuals about the best way to communicate and offer alternatives.
  • Be prepared to repeat and rephrase questions and responses.
  • Try to ask questions which require only short answers.
  • Concentrate on what the individual is saying and be patient. Take as much time as necessary.
  • Do not speak for the individual or attempt to finish his or her sentences.
  • Be patient, flexible and supportive. Take time to understand the individual and make sure that he or she understands you.
  • Offer extra time for decision-making. Wait for the individual to accept the offer of assistance; do not "over-assist" or be patronizing.

Deaf

  • When using an interpreter, address the customer and not the interpreter.
  • Offer alternative means of communication when an interpreter is not present (i.e. texting, TTY) or ask the individual what method he or she would prefer.
  • If offering any assistance, always wait for a response and then follow the individual’s instructions.
  • When talking to a person with a disability, talk directly to that individual, not the friend, companion or sign language interpreter who may be present.

Hard of Hearing 

  • Gain the person's attention before speaking.
  • Always look at the individual when speaking
  • Speak in normal tone.
  • If repetition is needed, sometimes it is helpful to use different words.
  • Concentrate on what the individual is saying.
  • Do not speak for the individual or attempt to finish his or her sentences.
  • Be patient. Take as much time as necessary. 

For additional information please contact me at www.RuhGlobal.com

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Related Resource

Blog: Digital Empathy for Customers of All Abilities by Robert Pearson | Read full article.

Publication: 2012 CRPD ICT Accessibility Progress Report - G3ict and DPI collaboration | Download Free PDF.

Event: Webinar, 'Web Accessibility - the Benefits for Business,' co-hosted by G3ict, ILO and UN Global Compact | February 12, 2013 - View Event Details.