Challenges communicating with Bell led Adam King-Duke to despair about living independently Jessica Singer, CBC News
Posted: Jul 19, 2023
Living alone provided Adam King-Duke with a sense of newfound independence and confidence.
The Newfoundland man, who’s hard of hearing, left his mother’s house several years ago, striking out by himself like any young adult.
But earlier this year, King-Duke says he suddenly lost access to his television and internet services. He tried fixing the problem on his own to no avail, and assumed it could be solved through a simple conversation with his provider, Bell Aliant.
He soon realized there wasn’t an accessible way for him to communicate independently with the company. The experience was so troublesome, says King-Duke, that it led him to move back in with his mother at 27 years old.
“Right now, I feel like it took away my freedom. It took away my independence,” says King-Duke, who uses a hearing aid and spoke to CBC News with the assistance of sign language interpreter Ken Parsons.
“It’s awkward to have to know you live with a parent and can’t live on your own. I was happy, I was excited. But now, I just lost confidence.”
In an email exchange with CBC News, Bell Aliant said that it has been in touch with King-Duke and that it will take his concern forward to “Bell’s accessibility program steering committee,” so it can “look to enhance our services available to customers with disabilities in Atlantic Canada requiring technical support.”
King-Duke told CBC News in an email that he’s pleased the company finally acknowledged his concerns. But, he says, it shouldn’t have taken weeks of failed communications to reach this point.
King-Duke says one of the most effective ways for those with hearing disabilities to communicate with companies like Bell is through live chat, where users type messages in real time with customer service representatives.
He soon realized customers in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. don’t have the option to communicate via live chat to receive technical support or repairs for internet, Fibe TV or home phone issues.
According to Bell’s customer support website, all provinces and territories have a live chat option to solve mobility and satellite television issues. Quebec and Ontario have a live chat option for all mobility, internet, TV and home phone technical support issues.
King-Duke says those with disabilities in Atlantic Canada are left behind. He says he tried calling the company, but had trouble understanding or communicating with representatives on the phone. He tried visiting Bell Aliant stores in St. John’s, but they informed him they couldn’t provide the technical support he needed.
He says he escalated the issue to Bell Aliant’s customer relations centre, where he was then redirected to Bell’s accessibility services centre, which the company touts as an “industry-leading service” designed for customers with accessibility needs.
He says nobody at the centre could provide technical support, and that they redirected him to a phone call. After numerous emails, many of which he says received no response, his last resort was to have his mother translate a phone call for him. His services were fixed after five days of what he calls failed communication.
He says he appreciates his mother’s help, but being unable to communicate independently is demoralizing.
“It’s 2023,” said King-Duke. “Why not take advantage of it and use it? If you have it available for other provinces, why not take over that and use it here in Newfoundland or [the] Atlantic?”
An ongoing problem
Myles Murphy, the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf, advocates for the deaf community to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
He says many deaf people in the province face difficulties when trying to communicate with large, national corporations like Bell.
“It’s really not fair,” said Murphy through sign language interpreter Parsons.
“Other provinces across the country have the full services and live chat for any of your services that you need. Deaf people always want to communicate, and the live chat feature would be something that would be perfect for us.”
Aside from live chat, King-Duke and Murphy say there are other communication options, but that they all come with their own set of roadblocks. For instance, requesting an in-store interpreter through Bell is a lengthy process, says King-Duke, and availability to those living outside Ontario and Quebec is limited.
Video relay service, also known as VRS, allows sign language users to communicate with others via telephone by connecting with an interpreter using video call, who then interprets for the user. Murphy says this is another common option for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but that representatives with Bell often don’t accept VRS calls due to challenges identifying the deaf customer.
King-Duke says he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be living with his mother, in a home they rent together in Paradise, N.L. He says the ordeal with Bell contributed to his decision to move back with his parent, and left him questioning his ability to navigate the world alone.
He says it shouldn’t be difficult for people like him to have a simple conversation.
“I truly hope that they learned that Atlantic provinces [are] part of Canada,” he said via email.
“We deserve the same services and the same access as the rest of Canada.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Singer is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. She is originally from Richmond Hill, Ontario and has worked in CBC newsrooms in Toronto, ON and St. John’s, NL. You can reach her at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @jessicaesinger