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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Making important decisions with outdated information

Good morning!  We the business desk team would like to bring you a very interesting article written by a very interesting woman.  She is a born leader, an advocate, a top expert in her field, and she does all of it without sight. 
Donna J Jodhan is blind but she does not allow her lack of sight to stop her.  We hope you find her article insightful.
From the business desk, we wish you a very wonderful weekend.
 
 
Making important decisions with outdated information
By Donna J Jodhan
 
INTRODUCTION
More often than not, I am forced to make important financial decisions based on information that is outdated and this is primarily due to limited access to dated information; but I am not unique.  For more than 10% of Canadians who have been classified as print disabled, the problem exists and this situation is only going to deteriorate unless something concrete is done quickly.  In this article, I will focus on the following as it pertains to blind and visually impaired Canadians:
Describe the present environment, outline the needs, suggest a possible solution, and outline possible advantages and benefits that could be derived.  Finally, I will summarize.
 

PRESENT ENVIRONMENT
At the present time, the majority of print disabled Canadians are being forced to make important financial decisions based on information that is either outdated or irrelevant and it is all because of their inability to access information independently.  The majority of this group has to depend on others to read and/or retrieve their required information from such places as:  The Internet, financial statements, magazines, and from newspapers.  These processes often result in information being relayed to the print disable person in an untimely manner and in addition, the person receiving the information is never sure that they have received information that is accurate or appropriate.
 
For the majority of blind and visually impaired persons, mountainous barriers stand between them and access to information on the Internet because of inaccessible online banking facilities.  Despite the efforts of some of Canada's largest banks to make their websites more accessible and user friendly, online banking remains a challenge to blind and visually impaired consumers.  In addition, many blind and visually impaired persons continue to depend on others to read their financial information because they are unable to obtain it in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, e text, and audio cassette.  Through my own personal experience and from experiences related to me by others, I have come to realize the following: 
1. Many customer service reps at Canada's top banks do not know how to deal with requests for statements in alternate formats.
2. They often tell their blind and visually impaired clients that the bank in question does not provide statements in alternate formats.
3. They often tell the requesting clients that they should use the Internet to do their online banking.
 
If you persist beyond the customer service rep you can often obtain certain types of financial statements but the challenge with this is that more often than not the statement arrives more than six weeks after the statement date thus rendering the information of little value.  So what we have here is as follows:
1. Inaccessible websites thus making online banking a challenge.
2. Customer service reps who are not trained to handle requests for statements to be sent to customers in alternate formats.
3. Statements in alternate formats that often arrive too late to be of much use to the customer.
 
This situation is not unique to the Canadian banking industry.  Indeed, a similar environment presently exists when it comes to access to information with regard to important statistical reports from the www.statcan.ca website.  This website is the gateway to all of Canada's statistical reports as produced by Statistics Canada and is used by companies of all sizes as well as by individuals.  It contains reports that bear vital statistics to help all Canadians make important decisions pertaining to their lives but whereas the mainstream Canadian can take advantage of this important gateway, blind and visually impaired Canadians are unable to do so because of barriers to accessibility.
 
 In order to obtain statistical information in alternate formats, blind and visually impaired Canadians have to call the 1800-622-6232 government of Canada number and make their requests to customer service reps who may or may not know the meaning of alternate format and even if they are able to order their requested information it often takes a long time before it arrives.
 
This is a very frustrating environment for blind and visually impaired Canadians to deal with at the present time.  For not only are they having to face issues of access to information,  they are also facing issues of confidentiality because each time they ask someone to either retrieve or read their information, the issue of confidentiality arises. 
 

NEEDS
I believe that the following needs should be addressed by all stakeholders:
1. Blind and visually impaired persons need to find ways to access information on a more timely and accurate basis and they need to be able to do it independently. 
2. They need to be able to preserve their confidentiality which means being able to access their information independently without sighted assistance.
3. Banks and others need to come up with ways to provide the requested information on a timelier basis. 
4. Websites need to be made more accessible. 
5. Information in alternate formats needs to be provided more willingly and readily. 
6. Blind and visually impaired persons need to know where they can go in order to obtain their requested information. 
7. Customer service reps at banks and at the 1800-622-6232 number need to be provided with adequate training in order to meet the demands of blind and visually impaired persons.
8. Blind and visually impaired persons need to be able to choose the type of alternate format that best meets their requirements.
 

SOLUTION AND DESCRIPTION
The solutions should be one whereby all stakeholders can come together to discuss what is necessary in order to accomplish the following objective:  Greater access to information both on and off the Internet.  In short, blind and visually impaired Canadians should be able to access whatever mainstream Canadians can access.  The same information for everyone.  A possible solution could contain the following components:
1. Training sessions for website designers and developers in the rudiments of the design and development of accessible websites.
2. Training for customer service reps at banks and at the 1800-622-6232 government of Canada number as to how to handle requests for information in alternate formats.
3. The establishment of a process to have a reputable company produce these alternate formats.  This company should possess the necessary expertise and should be one that is in the for profit sector.
4. The establishment of a print on demand process so as to avoid delays in sending out the requested information.
5. A way that blind and visually impaired persons could become more aware of where to go and how to request information in their desired alternate format.
6. Access to information could be available both on the Internet as well as through alternate formats. 
 

ADVANTAGES AND BENEFITS
The advantages to my proposed solution could be viewed as one that can potentially benefit many of others in addition to blind and visually impaired persons.  With a rapidly aging population, more and more seniors are going to need to find ways to deal with diminishing vision and in addition, other types of disabling diseases are going to play a part in forcing others to find alternate ways to access information.  Consequently, access to information is going to become more and more of a concern for more and more Canadians as time marches on.  There are those who would prefer to access their information through non-computer methods simply because they are not comfortable working on the Internet or they do not have the required technology to do so.  There are those who would prefer to access their information through the Internet because it is easier and more convenient for them to do so and there are others who would prefer to use a combination of both types of methods.  Greater access to information would definitely be the forerunner to happier customers, and the potential to attract more customers.
 

SUMMARY
In this article I have outlined the present environment with regard to access to information for blind and visually impaired persons.
1. They are unable to access vital information independently and confidentially.
2. They are unable to access online banking websites in an independent manner because of accessibility problems.
3. They are often unaware as to how to obtain information in alternate formats.
4. Customer service reps at banks and at the 1800-622-6232 government of Canada number are not always aware as to how to meet the requests for alternate formats.
 
I have given a list of needs that include the following:
1. Blind and visually impaired persons need to be able to access information independently, quickly, accurately, and on a timely basis.
2. They need to know where to go in order to obtain the desired information.
3. Customer service reps need to be trained when it comes to processing requests for alternate formats.
4. Online banking websites need to be made more accessible.
 
Finally, I have presented a solution that banks can use to attract more customers.
 

Now you can view blogs written by Donna at http://www.numpadplus.com/blog under the access and accessibility category and you can also see her biweekly editorial at www.accessibilitynews.ca/acnews/editorials/donna.php
In addition, you can view her monthly online magazine editorial at http://www.onestopbookcafe.com under the cafĂ© talk link. 
Donna also hosts a weekly feature called important answers to consumers concerns at http://www.untappedwealth.com/businessdesk.html
and her company's free monthly online magazine can be found at http://www.sterlingcreations.ca/magazine.html

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