Category Archives: Media

Making complaints processes accessible

This post is taken from a presentation given at the third Disability Conference; Another complaint, another Improvement. Why is it so Difficult to complain? Making your complaints processes more accessible.

It has not been in the Kiwi DNA to complain, and especially not disabled people, at least not to complain formally, but we are learning fast in the post Human Rights Act, Health and Disability Commissioner Act and the United Nations Convention on the rights of people with Disabilities (CRPD), even the post-Fair Go environment. Disabled people are finding and using their voices to complain, or as one speaker put it, to speak out.

Why complaints are critical in a human rights environment

It is critical that service providers complaints processes are accessible. Complaints lead to service improvements and contribute to achieving human rights for disabled people. An important element of human rights is that people must be able to complain and seek redress when things go wrong.

People will share their stories of bad experiences widely, in their communities and on social and general media, and these stories can be harmful to your organisation and reputations. The media are becoming more interested and are increasingly taking such stories seriously, especially in light of recent high profile abuse cases.

The social media go on regardless. If you are not participating in social media you don’t know what people are saying about you. While this raises questions about time and resourcing for smaller organisations, monitoring, careful management and innovative ways of keeping tabs through social media are important.

Beyond Charity

We are well beyond the charitable days when people who received services from disability support organisations had to be constantly grateful and say thank you for everything, and be grateful for anything, no matter what quality. Of course that does not mean that we should not appreciate good service.

Attitude is all

It is all about attitude, to taking complaints, and to service users. The glass can be half empty or half full on both counts. Respect for service users and their right to take complaints is fundamental. Well-meaning words on paper are not enough. You have to walk the talk.

Complaints should be seen positively, as a means of improving relationships, learning and making positive change and providing better services. Complaints are helpful.

Accessibility is a broad issue and a strategic one.

Some of the issues underpinning accessibility are about how comfortable and confident people feel about complaining, and the same is true about those who receive complaints.

Complaints processes are all about openness and good communication at every level. The organisational culture that values community connectedness and processes with integrity will be more accessible than one that does not. An open, accessible, accountable culture building strong trustful relationships with those who use the services will contribute to an organisation where people feel they can speak out when things go wrong.

Speaking out may happen differently for different people. Listening also takes different forms. Recognition of these differences is important.

Best practice

It is ironic that when researching this presentation I found some information on ‘so called’ accessible complaints procedures available in inaccessible pdfs! Happily they were not New Zealand disability support organisations.

But I did find it quite hard to locate complaints processes on several disability service provider web sites I looked at, and very easy and clear on one other. Some were not overly welcoming, for example one large provider did not have an online form, giving an email address only. This can be confusing because it may open a new version of the email program which is annoying and a usability problem. To avoid opening a new version I had to cut and paste the address.  A well designed and accessible online form can also ask some helpful questions. The more options for complaints the better.

Knowing about and being comfortable with the process

People don’t always know how to complain, the way the process works, and how to complain appropriately. They may be afraid of the consequences of making a complaint.

There are also some underlying general factors which affect the accessibility of complaints systems. They apply across the board, but have particular resonance for the situation of disabled people. If you need a service, and your provider is the only game in town you may feel particularly vulnerable if you complain. It is necessary for providers to understand and compensate for this particular power in-balance.

Develop and implement an accessibility policy

There are some important strategic considerations needed before thinking about a complaints process. One very important one is an accessibility policy. This should cover everything in the organisation from physical to electronic access. It should have associated guidance and standards.

For a process to be accessible and actually work complainants need to;

  • Be taken seriously and treated respectfully
  • Be heard
  • Be safe and not be victimised for complaining

Make it easy to complain.

If like the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy your complaints process is on the equivalent of Alpha Centauri it will all be pointless. Make your complaints process easy to find and inclusive. Accept complaints in a variety of ways. If you don’t they will get around anyway through social media and word of mouth and possibly become distorted.

If complaints can be made by letter or in writing only, many people, even those who are perfectly literate and able to write a letter will find it difficult to complain because they may be upset or stressed at the time they want to complain.

Complaints and related correspondence should be accepted in a number of different ways including

  • in person – face to face
  • over the phone or Internet, including by the Relay Service
  • online forms
  • in writing via email, fax and letter
  • Access should be provided to translating and interpreting services for non-English speaking people.
  • Complaints in Maori and New Zealand Sign Language should be accepted.
  • Complaints from Pacific Peoples should also be welcomed.

Accessibility should include access for children and older people as well as for the range of disabled people.

The reason I take such a broad approach to accessible complaints is that, even if your organisation provides services to a defined group of disabled people, you can’t assume they won’t have other impairments or identities, or that their whanau or support people won’t have other impairments or be from a variety of ethnic groups. People and families are complex, and have complex and rich identities which we ignore at our peril

Getting started.

  • Complaints are Strategic Complaints, and the way they are processed are strategic, part of your PR and communication strategy. You need policy, guidance and robust procedures
  • Have an accessibility policy with implementation guidance for staff
  • How to complain Service users must know they can complain and be supported independently if necessary
  • Make your complaints process easy to find, or people might think they can’t complain, or that complaints are unwelcome. They won’t complain if it is too hard.
  • If complaints are easy to make, you are more likely to get some good ideas and avoid people taking to the law or to the media.
  • Have a variety of ways to complain and clearly communicate their availablity
  • Structure the process so it asks questions to help the complainant, and you, clearly identify the problem complained about, and what they would like to happen as a remedy
  • If people need support to complain, make it clear they can bring a support person of their choice
  • Empower all staff to take complaints, invaluable in very small organisations.
  • Any written material should be in plain everyday language and not include confusing legal terms or jargon. Many disabled people have poor literacy. Easy Read may be an option too.
  • Make sure your web site is accessible and has an easy to find, accessible online complaints form, along with other alternatives. Some people find it easier to complain online.
  • Your buildings should be properly accessible, regardless of the service.
  • Make sure you provide relevant material in formats other than pdf.
  • Your staff should know how to use the Relay Service and frontline staff could take a Sign Language taster class during Sign Language Week or classes offered in their communities.
  • Check people’s requirements for communication when they complain.
  • Have toll free numbers if your services are offered beyond the free call area.
  • Use social media to take complaints and always respond when people do, a good reason why you should be active and involved in social media.
  • Remember not everyone has access to email or the web.
  • Timely attention to complaints and their resolution is critical. Having some internal standards might be useful.
  • Analysis of complaints and a feedback loop should take into account how well you are doing all of the above as well as the type of complaints you are receiving.

Accessibility is a journey. Make it an enjoyable and rewarding one for everyone.

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Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Media, Web Accessibility

Women, disableism and literature

In my last blog post I analysed why disabled women are invisible in New Zealand. This time, since I am joining other bloggers around the world on Blogging against Disableism Day, I have selected a subject which, as a disabled woman, is dear to me.

Being denied something which is generally of value to others is disableism, (discrimination,) at work, intentional or not. This is particularly true for those of us born with disabilities growing up.

Children and young people as they grow see similar life experience to their own life experience reflected around them through all kinds of media. It helps them find out who they are, and how they want to be in the world, good or bad. If they love reading good books they will probably meet a range of life experience, similar and dissimilar to their own in books.

Disabled children are denied this experience. Problematic “inspiration porn” and other negative media depictions aside, there are few, if any, good books written from their perspective by disabled authors who understand this experience of growing up with a disability at a very deep human level. Disability is constructed differently in different societies. It is constructed from a generally unchallenged non-disabled perspective in western literature. There is no body of literature or debate beyond a struggling academia to support any change, at least in New Zealand.

I do wish I could find similar life experiences to mine reflected in our literature. It was bad enough growing up without New Zealand books as my generation did. But I often experienced feelings of isolation as I didn’t know anyone like myself. Nor could I read about anyone like me, except Helen Keller, whose life experience was light years away from mine, in ways other than time, geography and personal circumstances. Even her impairment was promoted as a non-disabled construct and largely remains so.

Mental illness does seem to be an exception to the rule of silence. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a powerful example. Closer to home I have of course read Janet Frame’s early books. But there is now a climate of denial around her experience. Whether or not she was mentally ill, she still had the searing experience of being labelled and treated as disabled. I am also interested in the experience of Robin Hyde, although some of her writing is out of print and not accessible. At that time she probably would not identify as disabled, a fairly modern concept.

Disabled Women’s experience is starting to be reflected in dance, and in art and crafts, although disabled artists are often referred to as “outsider” artists, which I don’t like. Another less discriminatory term should be used.

Literature seems to be more difficult to infiltrate here. While I can find some international non-fiction about disabled women’s experience, often academic, I long for some general well-written, thoughtful, crunchy, insightful and satisfying everyday accounts of lives lived in the modern everyday world of disabled women, whatever that might be.

Self-publishing may not be the answer either, as I have seen too many poorly written edited and presented books telling “inspirational” life stories. They are frequently self-absorbed and undisciplined.  Doris Lessing’s description of the writing process is my favourite. She says,

“The whole process of writing is a setting at a distance. That is the value of it – to the writer and to the people who read the results of this process, which takes the raw, the individual, the uncriticised, the unexamined, into the realm of the general.”

Has no New Zealand publisher ever seen such a manuscript written by a disabled woman on the subject of the lives of disabled women? Has none ever been written, or do publishers think there is no market for such books? This situation needs to change.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Media, The Arts, Women

New Zealand Book Month – Include everyone

March is New Zealand Book month It is a great initiative. Encouraging people to read our own books is important. Last year during NZ Book Month I blogged The e-reader versus the “real” book.  In whatever format, reading a book is an enriching experience.

Despite the inducement of a five dollar book token there are still people in New Zealand who are denied the delight of reading a book.

Even with the inclusion of e-books, only seven per cent of printed material is available to print-disabled people in New Zealand.

Print-disabled people include blind and low vision people, some Deaf, (for whom written English is their second language to NZ Sign Language,) people with dyslexia, people with other learning disabilities and those who physically can’t hold a book, or whose medication inhibits concentration. This is a sizeable group of people.

Wouldn’t it be great if NZ book month focused on the whole range of book formats and readers? How about a blind or deaf ambassador? I’m sure one of those terrific medal-winning Paralympians could be found to do it. How about encouraging a whole range of print-disabled people to read New Zealand books in all formats along with everyone else?

This group of readers are often forgotten by mainstream publishers and book people generally, but, with an aging population and more disabled children attending their local schools this is a growing audience, (and market,) who deserve better. Encourage them too! Everyone should have the right to read.

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3D movies decrease cinema accessibility

Many people will have been to see The Hobbit over the holiday season. The 3D “phenomenon” is interesting as it seems to be a case of new technology being even less accessible than usual. By that I mean that it is excluding an even larger number of people than is usual with new technology developments. Depending on which expert you listen to, between two and 12 per cent of all viewers are unable to appreciate video shown in 3D.

As well as the usual vision-related reasons for having difficulty viewing regular movies, 3D has the added requirement that you have binocular vision, that is, you can see out of both eyes at the same time and have good depth perception. If you are able to see the 3D effect but it causes you discomfort, you may have a mild binocular disorder. It is probably worth having your eyes checked out. People who may not usually consider themselves vision impaired will find themselves disabled by 3D technology.

I don’t know how many are captioned either.

Whether or not you choose to view movies in 3D or not depends on whether you have binocular vision, or simply whether or not you want to pay the premium price to see it. The day we went to see it at The Embassy, the cinema director Peter Jackson helped restore to its 1930’s glory, we saw it in boring old 2D, and the cinema was full.

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