Accessibility is not a token effort

TW: i’m not sure how to put it – talking about how someone saying they’re accessible because they offer x option when it’s not uniformly accessible isn’t really a good thing


So, you remember how I was sent to the wrong address for a psych eval? Well, I had heard jack boo of nothing since then, so I put in a complaint.


Today I received a letter to say that I will receive a letter about it. Whoopee doo. At the end, in some kind of passive-aggressive I don’t even know why whatever thing, there’s a little note:¬†For your information we have included a link to the National Relay Service.


The NRS is a website/SMS relay, for people who have trouble with phone conversations but don’t qualify for or can’t afford a TTY.


I stopped using it for two reasons:

The first reason was that when I was sorting stuff out for surgery, the relay operator kept me on after the calls were done to ask about the surgery and wish me well. They’re, as far as I understand it, not actually meant to do that – they can talk to clarify things if you’re not clear, but not to, you know, have personal conversations with you. It made me uncomfortable, especially coming just after the operator had relayed a tirade from the hospital about how it was too hard to help me over the phone.


The second reason is that I had, after that, a series of issues with the relay itself. I did complain to them, and was told it was a service outage – you know, the kind that only affected me, every time I tried to use it.

See, I’m not fast enough to do these sorts of things in real time, especially when I have to type words three or four times to get them right, if at all. I would get ‘oh, it’s an answering machine, here’s the message!’ and by the time I left a message, they would say “whoops! it’s cut off, let’s just ring back!”

I would say no, and they would do it anyway.

And then, they would keep messaging me. All night. Because I said “no, don’t ring back, do not leave a message, please end the call”, and put down my phone and gone back to actual life things, I would come back to my phone the next day with eight or nine messages, all to the tone of “please send what message you want to leave” alternating with “you have not sent your message fast enough i am ending the call”.

One time, I got them, deleted them, and they started coming again. “Your message was incomplete, please provide number and message.” Over and over, until, again, I was told off for not being fast enough to provide a number and message I never actually gave or intended to give at all.

Another time, I sent a quick message, following their instructions to say ‘no reply needed’, and I received seven messages from two operators over the next six hours, telling me off for not continuing the conversation… which was, literally, no reply needed.


So I don’t use the relay now. It doesn’t accommodate me, as someone who doesn’t compute conversations fast enough for them to occur in real time, and who will not tolerate being harassed by the operators.



But, because the relay is there, it seems that it’s now an excuse for people to not offer accessibility options, because people can just use the relay. Except, you know, when they can’t.


Here’s the thing: the relay is staffed by real live people who do the intermediary bit. Certain government departments (by which I mean all of them, in my experience), won’t conduct business by email or post because “it’s not private”.

The relay isn’t private. The staffers don’t switch their brains off and just work as human text-to-speech programs. You can get someone different every time, so there’s no telling how many people the relay could be responsible for giving access to your personal data. I’m sure they sign confidentiality agreements, but that doesn’t mean they’re not people; a contract doesn’t suddenly mean they don’t absorb and interpret the information they relay. By its very nature, communicating through another person isn’t private. And, if they don’t use email because it can be hacked, well… so can the relay. Someone could take my phone and see the conversation chain, if I didn’t delete it so it didn’t make me cry and paralyse me when I need my phone to type to people. (This, incidentally, is why I don’t give my number out, because I don’t use it to actually use the phone network, just as something smaller than a laptop but with a keyboard because touchscreens don’t have key guides.) Someone could put a keylogger on my computer, or monitor the wireless traffic, or put a worm in the relay. The same arguments for email not being private apply to the relay.


But because email isn’t private, and the relay is there, they all seem to think they’ve done their bit for making necessary services available to people, when they haven’t, and they’re just putting the responsibility for jumping hoops back on to people who can’t get through them.


The other issue with using the relay? There has to be someone at the other end to take the call. With certain departments, this isn’t guaranteed.


(There’s also that to accept incoming calls you have to make an account and then give people detailed instructions on how to call you, and then sit around with yet another logged-in messaging window open in case, and if you don’t stay at the computer for long periods because it involves bright lights and sitting, well, that’s not very accessible either.)



By taking away people’s choices on how they communicate, it’s being¬†less accessible, not more.


“Your feedback has been taken into consideration and sent to the team responsible.”

So it won’t change, will it?