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March 20, 2004

Banks taught to aid the deaf

From: Toronto Star - Toronto,Ontario,Canada - Mar 20, 2004


If you have spent your life in a world filled with sound, how do you communicate with someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing? Does shouting help? Do you have to spend time you can't afford learning some sort of complicated sign language? Is it worth the bother?

A year ago, this column looked at how banks treat people with disabilities. I asked readers to pass on their experiences, good and bad. Many respondents said financial institutions don't even try to accommodate clients with hearing issues.

People who are deaf and communicate using a TTY "typing" machine instead of the telephone said they usually find themselves completely shut out. Even banks that have the technology don't answer TTY calls or respond to messages left on TTY machines.

Those who try to communicate using Bell Canada's relay service, where operators act as go-betweens, translating typed TTY sentences into voice, also find themselves out in the cold. Employees at financial institutions routinely refuse to take Bell relay calls, readers said. Most don't even bother to give a reason. A few cite confidentiality issues, even though Bell relay operators sign agreements not to disclose details of any conversations.

None of this was news to Brenda Carson, director of communications at the Hearing Foundation of Canada. "Deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers have a difficult time getting any important personal information, whether it's (relating to) the doctor, dentist, lawyer or finances," she says.

But this time she decided to take some action. Based on the stories of poor service related by Star readers, Carson drew up a proposal and applied for funding from the Ontario Securities Commission's investor education fund. The result is a series of free educational workshops to help financial professionals improve communications with deaf and hard-of-hearing clients and assist those same clients to deal with banking, investing and money management.

What's in it for the bankers and investment advisers? As the workshop brochures explain: "If you want to tap into the growing market of 3 million Canadians with hearing loss — including 20 per cent of baby boomers and 65 per cent of seniors — you need to offer information and financial services in a way that meets their needs."

Already, news of the seminars is attracting attention from other service industries, says actor Gael Hannan, who will conduct the workshops in conjunction with financial services executive Stan Tepner, who has first-hand experience of hearing loss.

"Seniors and baby boomers are key markets for a wide range of services," says Hannan. "If this pilot project works, we hope organizations will incorporate such workshops into their training programs."

What does it take to communicate with clients who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and to make it easy for them to reach you? The 90-minute workshop for financial advisers will demonstrate the latest technology and also cover simple things that simply make a good environment for communicating.

"Something as simple as closing a door to reduce background noise can make a big difference," Hannan says. "Or making sure you speak directly to the client instead of facing the computer while you're speaking."

The workshop will be offered at 4 p.m., April 7, at the Toronto Stock Exchange; 11:30 a.m., April 8, at the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board, 200 Front St.; 4 p.m., April 20, at First Canadian Place; and 4 p.m. April 21, at Mississauga City Hall.

For deaf and hard-of-hearing clients, a two-hour session complete with amplification, real-time captioning and sign-language interpretation will be offered at 1 p.m., April 7, at the Toronto Stock Exchange; and 1 p.m., April 21, at Mississauga City Hall. For more information or to register for a workshop, call Brenda Carson at 416-364-4060, ext. 25, or e-mail

If you're in the Toronto area and would like to offer Queen's Park advice on making Ontario more accessible to people with disabilities, mark Tuesday evening on your calendar. That's when province-wide hearings on how to make the Ontarians with Disabilities Act more effective hit the Big Smoke.

The Act, hastily introduced in the dying premiership of Mike Harris, has been criticized as all show and no go. Unlike its U.S. predecessor, it does not cover private-sector companies and contains no mandatory changes, no deadlines for accomplishing anything and no means of enforcement.

You can make your feelings known in person Tuesday between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. in room 206 in the north building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St. W. To register, call 1-877-877-0109 (voice) or 1-877-877-0126 (TTY).

Or you can still put in your 2 cents' worth on line at zenship/accessibility, by phone at 1-888-325-4957 (voice) or 1-888-335-6611 (TTY) or by writing: Public Consultations, Accessibility Directorate, Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, Third Floor, 400 University Ave., Toronto, Ont. M7A 2R9. All submissions must be received by March 31.

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