Deafness accessibility and the case for live chat support

When it comes to running a business, you need to offer adequate deafness accessibility — it’s the law. Deaf customers have a right to use your services and access support.

One area that can prove a challenge for deafness accessibility is remote, real-time customer service. That is, communicating live with deaf customers who are not there in person.

You might turn to helpful tools like hearing loops, high-quality headsets, and microphones when supporting service users with reduced ranges of hearing. But that won’t be enough for everyone.

So, how can you improve deafness accessibility when it comes to providing real-time customer service?

Here, we make the case for offering live chat support.


The law

The law states that both employers and those that provide goods and services to the public must make reasonable adjustments to help people with disabilities. This includes the deaf and hard of hearing.

As an organisation, then, making reasonable adjustments means providing equipment and services to make your offering accessible despite the disability in question.

In terms of deafness accessibility, this would mean offering equipment or provisions that:

  • • Make it as easy as possible to hear

And/or

  • • Circumvent the need to hear

Failure to make such adjustments counts as disability discrimination. This occurs when a disability becomes a reason that a person has been placed at a disadvantage or not treated as well as an able-bodied person. Importantly, such discrimination doesn’t need to be intentional for it to be unlawful.

In no uncertain terms, businesses are legally required to ensure accessibility for deaf people.


The shortfalls of major service channels

One area where deafness accessibility is always sought is customer service. Unfortunately, many popular support channels are not suitable or difficult to use for deaf people.

Getting good customer service can be difficult and frustrating over calls for deaf people. Even where a reduced hearing range makes (tool-assisted) calls possible, the telephone channel still relies on the customer’s weak sense. Plus, some deaf people are not comfortable talking out loud, only compounding the issue.

The obvious option is to turn to text-based communication like emails and SMS messages. Such channels don’t put deaf people at a disadvantage. After all, they don’t rely on hearing to work effectively, and are just as accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing as to able-bodied customers.

But text-based channels aren’t perfect. Being restricted to email or SMS means that deaf people cannot easily access and benefit from live, real-time support. There’s no way of knowing when they might get assistance, or how long they’ll be waiting for a response.

So, this means that even common text-based service channels put people that are hard of hearing at a disadvantage.

This brings us to the case for live chat software.


Live chat for deafness accessibility

Live chat software enables immediate communication without relying on speech. For deaf service users, this unlocks the instant gratification that real-time communication brings to customer service. Even better, it does so without the problems associated with the telephone.

Offering a live chat channel means that your customers who are hearing impaired don’t miss out on the impact of real-time support — the kind you’d give them in-person.

Plus, there’s an extra bonus to using live chat for deafness accessibility: video chat functionality. WhosOn, for instance, offers a seamless feature to connect agents and customers via video chat. This can then allow agents capable of doing so to use sign language to communicate. And, as an added boon, they can send text-based support alongside the video, too.

Live chat software is an inclusive and highly accessible channel. It works for almost any service user and enjoys widespread popularity as a means to access support. But particularly for customers with a reduced hearing range, live chat offers fast, convenient, human support.


Deafness accessibility

Deaf and hard of hearing customers have the same need for real-time assistance as your other service users. They have the same right to customer support, and the same appetite for communication that suits them.

It is live chat that best answers these needs. By offering live chat support, you offer a channel that doesn’t require any extra effort from your deaf customers to use. Instead, they can get the same level of high-quality service as your able-bodied customers.

Simply, live chat makes real-time support equitable. It increases accessibility for all types of people — the hard of hearing included.


Useful links

Why messaging platforms haven’t (and won’t) displace live chat

When to use video chat support (and when not to)

Accessible customer service: is your business open?