Alternate Format Billing

I had time on my hands yesterday, so I phoned up my power company (Nova Scotia Power) and asked them if they could start sending me my statement in Braille.  I also asked them if they provided other options to customers who are Blind or partially sighted, such as Large Print, audio cassette or disc.  I mentioned that I was not certain, but I thought they might have a legal obligation to do so.  The clerk seemed confused.  She said she would call back after she checked with her supervisors.  Seven hours later, She did call back to tell me, “we don’t have the technical means to provide Braille or large print bills and statements”.  I then asked her to send that statement to me in writing.   I have no idea what our laws say about utility company requirements to provide alternate format billing, though I would bet that it’s in the books.  If it is not, it will be eventually  (grin). I will be a thorn in Nova Scotia Power’s side, until they ensure that alternate format billing options are available. The CRTC (Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission) has issued all sorts of rulings for telephone, cell phone and cable companies, directing them to provide alternate format billing to customers who request it.  If you don’t know what your local telephone, mobile phone, and utility companies provide in the way of alternate format billing, ask.  Be specific. Ask if they provide Braille, Large Print, audio cassette, or computer disc.  while you’re at it, ask them if their web site is ‘accessible’.  They might not know what you’re talking about.  Their web site designers should. I don’t think people who are Blind or partially sighted should be expected to pay a utility bill they can not read themselves. 

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6 responses to “Alternate Format Billing

  1. They certainly do have an obligation to provide you with information in an alternative format of your choice. Please feel free to let them know we can be of help. http://www.enablingwork.co.uk
    we do statements for a range of large organisations and the country is no issue.

    Please feel free to look at our site and if I can be of help let me know
    Regards
    Sue Berry
    Managing Director
    Enabling Work Ltd

  2. Thank you Sue,
    yes, they might have a moral and ethical obligation to provide customers with alternate format billing… it remains to be seen if they have a legal one. As for the offer for your company’s involvement, thanks, but we do have local firms who would be happy to have the contract. I’m thinking of Accessible Media Formatting of Atlantic Canada, run by a lovely woman, named Julianne. She happens to be blind.

  3. No problem – they would have a legal obligation here in the UK under the Disability Discrimination Act. You most probably have a similar Act.

    The duty to make reasonable adjustments applies to service providers – anyone providing goods, facilities or services to the public, whether for a fee or not. This includes banks, GPs, places of worship, local authority departments such as social services and environmental health, leisure centres, hotels and restaurants.

    If you cannot use a service at all without adjustments being made, then that will clearly be “impossible”.

    For example: If you have a bank account, and your statements are sent to you in standard print when you cannot read it, this would make it impossible for you to access that service and the bank should provide your statements in a format that you can access.

    Of course the issue then is do you want it to be taken to a court of law?
    I suppose that the threat of the bad publicity should be enough to get some action.
    Life’s never straight forward is it?
    Sue Berry
    http://www.enablingwork.co.uk

  4. Spot on Sue! Life is never straight forward, indeed. The difficulty in Canada is, that some things come under federal laws, like telecommunications, others, such as utility is a provincial matter. that makes 14 governments (1 federal, 10 provincial and 3 territorial) who are all in the mix. Some provinces, Ontario, for example, has a Disabilities Act. Others do not. I am trying to encourage Nova Scotia residents to enter into the latest discussions to establish one here. One would think that it would be a no-brainer. Not so. It’s a tough sell, even in the ‘disabled community’. We are so disconnected, that communicating with one another is problematic. One reason is resources. We simply do not have good contact information, nor the financial means to get the word out efficiently and consistently. Also, the ‘disability’ service provider organizations (the national npo’s like CNIB, CPA etc.) have no interest in working as a united group. There is a protective, every-man-for-himself attitude among them. Advocacy is not their priority. In fact, it is financially restricted to a percentage of their funding allotments. I remind my friends with disabilities, that while these types of organizations have a purpose, they also thrive on the DEPENDANCE of their clients. It is not in their interest to be very proactive in the independence of the people they allegedly serve. They would deny it, but it is true… and rather sad.

  5. Keep up the great work Helen.
    As a result of accessible information communication and technology, many more blind, deafblind and partially sighted people are now able to connect in online communities and talk about important issues such as access to information in formats that are usable and accessible.
    For the millions of people who do not have access to the online world being able to read personal and private mail in braille, large print and audio formats is essential.
    Publically funded and regulated organisations have an obligation to communicate effectively with customers and clients, while ensuring that the information is protected in the same manner as conventional material in the mainstream, by applying the same rigor and application of data protection standards.
    Forward looking business leaders have recognized that by making products and services accessible in the mainstream they are gaining access to a much broader market. They are challenging product, service and program managers to broaden their thinking to encompass the principles of universal design to ensure that they reach the widest possible audience.
    Ultimately, products and services available through mainstream channels benefit everyone. Businesses have access to new and growing markets for accessible products and services, while all consumers have a greater list of products and services to choose from, while enjoying lower prices resulting from increased competition in the market.
    I look forward to future blog entries!
    Best Regards,
    Sharlyn & Bizet
    http://www.tbase.com/blog
    Blind Ambition – A CEO’s Vision

  6. Thank you, Sharyln & Bizet! You summed it all up quite nicely!

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