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Fact Sheets

Fact Sheet 3: Access to Telecommunications for people from Non English Speaking Backgrounds with Disability

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 Telecommunication services provide vital connectivity and participation for people with disability. However people from Non English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) with disability face a number of barriers to accessing affordable telecommunications services, and information on specialist equipment and programs.

Contract Complexity and Poor Consumer Protections.

Language barriers can mean that people with low English proficiency can enter contracts without fully comprehending the terms and conditions.

Cultural differences at the point of sale can lead to issues for some NESB consumers: for example impoliteness to strangers is unacceptable in some cultures; as a result, some consumers ‘go along with the sales representative.’ Aggressive sales practices by telemarketing and door to door sales representatives can lead consumers to enter contracts they do not understand or want.

Some people from NESB with disability register for services that they cannot afford in order to address social isolation.

 Lack of Information

Specialised equipment for people with disability, and training on the use of that equipment is highly inconsistent throughout the States and Territories.

Lack of access to interpreter services – for example Translation and Interpreting Service National (TIS) - to assist with negotiating services.

Specialised resources for people with disability, such as a book of common words and phrases used by people with speech impairments, is not easily available in other languages. This can slow down a person’s developmental process as they are unable to express themselves through their first language. In the worst case scenario, this can mean that some people from NESB with disability are denied vital services. 

Telecommunications industry and government staff and representatives are frequently are not aware of the needs of people with disability, particularly those from an NESB background.

Participation includes disability, culture and language.

Case Study 1

  •      A woman from NESB with psychiatric disability approached an advocacy provider to help her extricate herself from a contract she had signed over the telephone, having not fully comprehended the terms and conditions of the contract. The salesperson who had sold her the product had been very polite and obliging, so she felt it would be rude to decline the offer and was embarrassed to ask for further clarification of the contract’s terms and conditions. 

Case Study 2

  • A young man from NESB with an intellectual disability called a sex line that he had seen advertised on television. Not being aware of the huge costs calls to these lines would incur upon him, he made frequent calls to this line. His mother was shocked to receive the bill that month which ran over $1000.00. The family was simply unable to pay the bill.

 Case Study 3

  • An elderly man from NESB had a hearing impairment required some means of communication with the outside world. He had limited English skills, had little family support and was socially isolated and at risk of injury due to his disability and other medical conditions. With the assistance of an advocacy service, the client applied for TTY Super Print Telephone Typewriter. A relay service educator visited the client at home and installed and explained the system. Yet, after a number of unsuccessful and distressing attempts to work with the typewriter and the National Relay Service system, the client decided that the technology was too complex for him to use and cancelled it.  The National Relay Service and the technology was not compatible with his language and no other alternatives were available.

Improve consumer rights for people from NESB with disability

  • more information on telecommunications contracts in community languages
  • free access to telephone interpreting services prior to signing contracts
  • upfront information on contract terms and pricing and clear opt out and cooling off periods, particularly for consumers with low English proficiency
  • training on disability and NESB needs to providers and decision makers
  • provide relevant communications aids and equipment in community languages, such as alphabet and symbol boards
  • ensure that all new telecommunications equipment and services are accessible to all Australians.