By Richard Boggie
Today, I am celebrating a small but significant victory. “oh, really?” I hear you say, “do tell, Richard”. 🙄
So, I was thinking about a talk I have to prepare for an event next month on digital accessibility in the health sector. It’s always easier and more impactful to illustrate those talks with personal, real-life experiences. So, I decide to give my local eye hospital a call. I have tried so many times in the past to get my appointments emailed to me, rather than the usual posted letter, which is totally inaccessible for me due to the small matter of not being able to see it – a detail which the eye hospital seems ironically to have missed for the past 30 years or so.
Anyway, I live in hope. I politely explain to the appointments person that I would like my communications to be sent to me via email. Ah, yes, the usual complete lack of awareness from a member of staff who has clearly received no information or training on a fairly fundamental question. I’m put on hold while she checks with her supervisor. Then the familiar response comes – “It’s not something we can do. An issue of confidentiality. We can’t be sure who is receiving the emails.” Utter tosh as usual.
But I’m not standing for this. I ask to speak with a manager. Long pause as I am put on hold again, whilst I imagine the conversation going on “Sounds like a right awkward one, this one. Must want to read his own mail.”
I’m bracing myself for the ‘computer says no’ response but shock, horror, am told that actually, yes, I can have my appointments by email so I can actually read them myself. I am shocked and stunned. If I’d been in the clinic, I would have kissed the poor woman.
Despite this minor miracle, I began to wonder if the promised email would ever arrive. But my doubts were unfounded as, within a couple of hours, the email duly arrived into my inbox. Excitedly, I opened it up, like a child on Christmas morning.
A child, that is, who unwraps his gift to find nothing inside. I should, of course have predicted that my appointment letter would be sent via email, as an inaccessible PDF, by which I mean one that my screen reader cannot decipher.
This sorry little tale is fairly typical. Getting what should be provided because it’s your right, by law, is seldom straight forward. It often feels like a battle, a series of battles in fact. It’s frustrating, boring and inefficient. Why should I be spending my time telling a hospital administrator how to do their job properly?
Seconds out, ding ding, round 3. I politely thank the administrator for her email and explain that the attachment is still not accessible. Now I’m starting to feel like a nuisance, like I’m nagging at this poor woman. Why? I’m only asking for what should be provided to me as a right. I guess because I’ve been conditioned by society not to really expect equality, to feel like I don’t really deserve it.
But my persistence paid off – I am a happy bunny 🐰 when a second email arrives with an accessible Word version of my appointment letter. I feel like maybe I should print the attachment off and put it in a frame, maybe hang it in the loo.
It’s taken me a long time, but I am finally starting to feel empowered to claim my rights, to not be fobbed off with ableist, discriminatory nonsense. Problem is, that one appointments clerk might, hopefully, be more aware in future, but what about the rest of the team? And the other departments? Am I, and other disabled patients like me, going to have to educate them all? Or will the hospital do that? I think I have the key message for my talk.