A Conversation with a Textphone

I feel like I should post an apology to the woman I just spoke to. But also I am very angry, and she was there. And to take the conservative angle, she didn't have to be there. If you're going to work in a call centre for a company with shitty discriminatory policies, then you can't complain when someone calls up and gives you an earful for it.

I've written before about how companies stick textphone numbers all over their pamphlets and adverts. Let's be clear: these textphone numbers are for hearing people. Not for hearing people to call, obviously, but for hearing people to look at and think, "Ooh, what a nice company! How egalitarian! How well they treat even their deaf customers!" If you are a hearing person, I hope you are well served by looking at these pretty numbers. I hope they make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Because that is the only service they can provide.

My mum recently had to contact her bank to activate her credit card. Don't worry! Although she is deaf, right in the pamphlet it says that she can call the following textphone number! Call it. Engaged? Sceptical son dials number. Not engaged, there is just a recorded message saying that this is a textphone and providing a voice phone number. After that, it rings. Call it again. Engaged. Now ringing. Now line unobtainable. Call number for reporting stolen cards and forgotten PINs. Same thing.

Call first number through Typetalk. Typetalk say that a human - not a textphone - answers. Don't worry, the human who answers the textphone number says, the textphones are down because of the weather. Ah, okay, says space cat mother. I'll call in a few days.

Four days later. The snow has melted away to nothing. The weather is grey and slightly chilly. Unlikely weather for interfering with textphones, surely? Call number. No textphone answers. Call the number for lost cards. Same deal. Angry space cat son dials first number. A recorded message tells him that this is a textphone number. As soon as the recording has finished, a woman answers. With her voice.

Pacian: Hello. You're not a textphone, are you?
Woman: No.
Pacian: Well then could you tell me what a deaf customer is supposed to do if they want to activate their credit card? Because none of the textphone numbers in the leaflet that came with the card work - including the one for lost and stolen cards.

This is the woman I feel like I should apologise to. This is also the woman I think seriously had it coming, just for working for a shitty bank. Basically, the woman has one piece of information to give me: a number which she assures me is the real textphone number. I am not surprised that the number in the leaflet is not the real textphone number. Space cat mum once called a company's customer services through typetalk to complain that she couldn't get through to their textphone number.

Mum: Can you please tell them to turn on the textphone. It's showing as engaged.
Kind woman: Well, I'm sitting right next to the textphone and it's turned on. What number are you dialling?
Mum: [gives number displayed proudly in phonebook and numerous adverts, making hearing people feel all warm and fuzzy inside]
Kind woman: No, that's not the number. This is the number. [gives a number identical to the one mum dialled, but with two digits swapped around]
Mum: [dials new number with textphone, successfully completes transaction with kind woman]

So, this new number is all that the woman can say to me. But I am annoyed. I don't like making phone calls and I hate the fact that because banks and companies are universally shitty towards deaf people, I have to make twice as many phone calls as I might otherwise have to: phone calls for myself and for my mother. I demand to know what space cat mum is supposed to do if her card is stolen and I am not around. None of the textphone numbers they've given out work. Would she be liable for any purchases made by the thief because she is unable to report the card stolen?

Woman: I'm afraid that I can't answer that question, as this is a different department.
Pacian: Well this seems to be the Department for Discrimination Against the Deaf, so I thought you might know.

The woman seems a little offended by this, because she makes me repeat it twice. But as I repeat it, I become more and more certain that it is justified. This is a call centre that is answering textphone calls. That's like ordering a takeaway from a kosher restaurant and finding that they were unable to fulfil the order, so got the pork pie shop next door to make a delivery instead.

I copy down the new number at this point. Then I am given the real textphone number for lost and stolen cards. It is identical to the one space cat mum was trying. After making sure that the woman understands that this is not acceptable and that complaints are going to be made, I lose the will to fight. I hate the bank and want it to go away.

Pacian: Well, I have this new textphone number now which you assure me is the real number for deaf people to call, but which you can apparently only find out by making a call to a voice phone. Thank you and goodbye. [hangs up]

Now space cat mum dials the new number with her textphone. I watch the little screen with cynical interest. But wait! It's connected and something is appearing!


Space cat mum and son debate whether this is someone taking the piss, or if the building really has been evacuated. Perhaps there are a number of different recorded text messages for when no-one is there and they have merely selected the wrong one.

Finally, space cat mum gets me to make the call to the voice number in the pamphlet. The nice man who answers gives us a voice number to call if you are disabled. We explain that this is not much help, and the problems we have encountered with three different textphone numbers.

Pacian: When we tried one of them we got a recorded text message saying that the building had been evacuated, so you might want to check that no-one is on fire or anything.

Space cat mum verifies her identity, and, lip-reading as I repeat what the nice man says, activates her new credit card. Hooray!

I decide to blog this so that everyone can know that their banks are shitty and the textphone numbers in their pamphlets do not actually work. First of all I search the internet for "banks textphone", but that just gets me a list of bank homepages with their textphone numbers on them, including the bank I now hate with a vengeance. I click that link and find that their website lists for their textphone three or four numbers that are completely different from any of the three numbers tried so far. Space cat mum shows me that the pamphlet was printed this month (it is the 12th) and so the website should not be more up-to-date, surely? Next I search for "banks textphone blog" and am gratified to see one of my own blog posts ranked seventh. This one is third and is worth a read.

Now ladies and gentlemen: remember: working in a call centre is a lot like joining the army of a dictatorial nation. Many factors may force you into that line of work, but you can't really be that surprised when someone then has a go at you for it.

Working for a bank, I have now decided, is inexcusable whatever the circumstances.


Geosomin said...

If you ask me the banks and student loan people should all be gathered up, let us all have a good yell at them and then sent home. I used to feel rather bad at having a yell athe phone people for the banks, but honestly after many years of it all...I don't know how you could screw people over regularly and still work there. I'm currently battling the banks over student loans and believe me...they are all evil.

zhoen said...

Banks are becoming far more evil. All large multi-mega-companies are.

So much is going online, the textphones are likely being neglected, which may be fine for some, but not for many.


Michelle said...

Wonderful post. You make a point that needs to be made in a very readable manner. I can't resist enticing you to watch this video as icing on the cake...


Pacian said...

@G: Well, if you yell at banks, I guess I feel better about doing it myself.

@Z: They're probably less neglected now than they've ever been. The thing that galls me is how now every company wants everyone to think that it caters for deaf people while not actually bothering to implement these things properly.

@M: You are treading dangerous ground with your love for flowsnakes and scary bank person videos. >:-|

susanna said...

Oh that IS discrimatory. Very crappy, too. My mother is nearly deaf now and gets by most of the time by lipreading what people are saying to her. She won't touch a computer (I don't know why, I mean she survived the Depression, WWII, carting four kids across Canada and Europe...)so she does all her banking, etc., in person. I can certainly understand Space Cat Mum's and your frustration, though. Damn bank.

PS - I like geosmin's suggestion for the banks and student loan people. Thankfully I'm finished paying off my loan (thank god!) but it was a long, painful period in my life. Lots of swearing happened in those years.

Diddums said...

I've always found it difficult to get in touch with companies of all descriptions. I used to try and talk with them by fax, and when my mother tried to get a fax number for me, this particular company said "we reserve our fax machines for business use."

On more than one occasion, trying to get in touch with companies who wouldn't listen has cost me money. But it probably doesn't just happen to the deaf.

zhoen said...

BBC just had an article about businesses bringing call centers back from India, because of so much ill will caused thereby.

Just gotta be a squeaky wheel.