Monday, April 29, 2019

Centralizing Call Centers: One Person's Story About Accessibility

My dear friend and colleague, Professor Mark Bauer, a frequent reader of this blog, shared a recent story about bumps in the road for elders in the family as they gathered for a funeral. He has given me permission to share this with you.

Sometimes many of us forget when we are privileged.  I was reminded of this last week.  Those of us who are fully able-bodied and adept at new technology already have every advantage.  Those of us with disabilities are already at a disadvantage, and the modern world rarely considers their needs.

A member of my family is an elder with devastating claustrophobia and two artificial knees.  Before making any hotel reservation, she needs to speak to the hotel and find out whether there are rooms on the ground floor because she has difficulty riding an elevator.  Sometimes a second floor room can work, but her knees prohibit her from long stairways, and frequently a dark, narrow, and foreboding staircase can be worse for claustrophobia than an elevator.  Substantially all hotel reservations are handled by national call centers and sometimes even outsourced to third parties.  They don’t have access to information about whether there are ground floor rooms, and they can rarely make a reservation for a specific floor.  Systems are designed today to prevent people from calling specific hotels.  Even if you can speak to the hotel, they often are prohibited from taking reservations directly.

We arrived in the Washington, DC area only to find out that the first floor of the hotel was actually on the sixth floor; the lower floors were a parking garage.  A desk clerk at the hotel had told us by phone in advance that there were ground floor rooms and even noted in our reservation the need for one.

I spent the next two hours trying to find some hotel within a few miles with ground floor rooms.  Even after looking up the hotel’s local number, calls fed directly into national reservations lines that were of no help at all.

I found a nearby corporate apartment complex that rented apartments on a nightly basis.  It took 30 minutes, but a supervisor at the national reservations number was willing to make a series of phone calls to the local property to verify they had an apartment available on the second floor.

I called an Uber and brought the two family members over to their new lodging.  While fairly close to the hotel where the other seven of us were staying, it was not walking distance for two elders.  The only thing that made sense at the time was to install Uber on their phones and give them a crash course in how to use a smart phone for more than calls, texting, and a few games.

I grabbed family member #1’s phone and tried to install Uber, only to find out he had already downloaded it.  But it froze up every time I tried to open the app because he had created a password, forgotten it, and then became locked out of the app.  I then deleted Uber and reinstalled it, and the same problem occurred.  It makes sense as a security matter to prevent reinstallation, but how many elders forget passwords and enter them incorrectly.

Since I thought myself clever, I tried to download Lyft.  But family member #1 couldn’t recall his Apple ID, so I was locked out of the app store.

I turned to family member #2’s phone.  I was able to successfully download Uber on to her phone and gave her a 20 minute course in how to use it, writing down the instructions and even going through several scenarios.  I knew it would probably work out (and it did) or we might never see them again.

Because I am a (slightly) younger and able-bodied person, it never occurred to me that hotels centralizing reservations at call centers could be an impediment to elders and those with disabilities.  And while I knew Uber was unavailable to anyone without a smart phone, or anyone who doesn’t know how to use their smart phone, I had never previously considered Uber to be an indispensable utility.

It seems to me that if we’re smart enough as a society to save all this money with call centers, and to create paradigm shifting inventions like smart phones and Uber, we should also be smart enough to figure out how not to further disenfranchise elders and persons with disabilities in the process.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/elder_law/2019/04/centralizing-call-centers-one-persons-story-about-accessibility.html

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