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Excellent Phone Support During Web Accessibility Remediation

Silhouette of customer support person talking into headset and looking at computer screen

The hard work in any web accessibility project begins when you receive the results of the audit. Until you know the number and complexity of issues existing on your site, it is difficult to predict how many developers you will need and how long the project will take. Often, the web accessibility remediation occurs in tandem with other, normal website updates and improvements, or even in tandem with a total website redesign and development. More often than not, the remediation is not going to happen in a week, or even a month.

What can a website owner or manager do to offer access to all users while waiting for a long list of repairs, or the completion of a new site? Previously, we have discussed several ways to greatly improve your website accessibility with quick-wins as your project begins, including an offer of telephone support. Simply adding an accessibility support number to your website accessibility statement or contact page will most likely fail to mitigate the access issues. Telephone support needs to emulate some, if not all, of the same features as your website. Reading through our short list of accessible phone support characteristics, you’ll quickly realize why the Web is so important to many of your customers and users, and possibly critical to those living with disabilities.

  1. Human Presence: Setting up a phone line serves no purpose if it is simply an automated system that provides instructions on how to do something on the website. There should be an easy-to-access method that allows people to reach a human being. There should also be enough humans on staff so that users are not put on hold for too long while waiting for an answer.
  2. Equivalent capabilities: Phone agents should be able to do anything that can be done on the website. It’s all fine and dandy if the agents can look up information, but if they can’t process the actual order, they are not helping the person with a disability complete the task. All tasks that can be done on the website should also be doable over the phone until the site is substantially accessible (and the tasks in question are totally accessible).
  3. 99% uptime: Agents should be available 247, or during the same opening hours as the website. If the website is open 247 (as most are), agents should be available 247 to provide the same level of access for customers with disabilities. Customers with disabilities should not be confined to doing things at certain hours, simply because the website is not accessible. After hours call services can be a cost-effective alternative to using existing staff.
  4. Understand the caller: Agents should have some general disability training. Once, when I called a company for assistance, they told me to “move your mouse to…” As a blind user, this is clearly impossible. Instead, agents should be given a way to help users with disabilities in a way that is beneficial to the user. It may be that you don’t wish to allow most users to do certain things over the phone (see point 2). But if a user explains that they have a disability, the agents should be trained to make an exception, and complete the task for the user. The Web was fundamentally designed to support all users, so anything offered up as a replacement must share that same basic tenet.
  5. Ease of access: The phone number for customers with disabilities should be in an easy-to-find location on the home page, visible to all users. It’s useless to set up this system if your users cannot find it.
  6. Consider TTY: Callers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or living with some speech disabilities will often make contact using their own teletype communication device. While there is no requirement to purchase teletype equipment or hire your own TTY service, it is worth considering a “soft TTY” service like SimpliciTTY to route analog calls into your digital phone service. In any event, be sure your staff is trained on how to deal with incoming TTY calls, including best practices for communications, and how to avoid fraud and scams that use TTY as a cover for illegal activity.

Phone support can be a powerful stop-gap measure, but is definitely no replacement for an accessible website. Making the telephone option work well, even temporarily, is crucial for positively impacting your users during your accessibility remediation project. Be sure to think it through, staff the role well, and educate your team.

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