Improving access to electronic communications services for disabled people
1.1 Communications services are important for all citizens in today's connected society. They provide people with access to cultural and educational activities and resources, and to services and commerce. They make it easier to participate in civil society, to learn and develop new skills, to connect with family, friends and community, and to search for work. They also allow businesses to engage with a wider range of customers and suppliers.
1.2 Many disabled people are active users of communications services, but may, because of their disabilities, face difficulties when using services which other people take for granted. We are carrying out a review of the range of services available to promote access to communication services for disabled people. The review is being carried out in light of social and technological changes affecting communication services and some recent changes to relevant European legislation.
1.3 Through this call for inputs, we want to better understand difficulties faced by disabled people in accessing communication services and the impacts this is having on them as well as understand the potential costs and benefits of possible changes to services aimed at improving access for disabled people. We have a number of hypotheses that we would like to test with stakeholders, and invite submissions from interested parties.
1.4 Ofcom requires communications providers to offer a range of services designed to promote access to communications services for disabled people. These include:
- Provision of free directory enquiries for visually impaired people;
- Access to a text relay service for deaf and speech-impaired people;
- Provision of a priority fault repair service for users with disabilities who have a genuine need for an urgent repair;
- Provision of a safeguard scheme for disabled users who are dependent on the telephone, which must provide for third party bill management;
- Mobile SMS access to the emergency services for users with hearing and/or speech impairments;
- Provision of bills and contracts in accessible formats for blind or visually impaired users; and
- An obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure that the services it provides in order to comply with General Condition 15 are widely publicised, including in appropriate formats and through appropriate channels for disabled end-users.
1.5 The requirement to provide these services is set out in General Condition 15, which applies to all providers of communications services in the UK.
Protections under consideration
1.6 The measures we are exploring through this call for inputs are:
- Updating the rules on the provision of accessible contracts to benefit other disabled end users, not just blind and visually impaired people, and to require fixed and mobile broadband providers to comply with this condition (not just voice operators).
- To extend the requirement to provide a priority fault repair service for certain disabled end users to fixed broadband providers (not just voice operators).
- To extend the current safeguard scheme for third party bill management to benefit all disabled end users who could benefit with help in managing their affairs, and to require fixed and mobile broadband providers to comply with this condition (not just voice operators);
- To extend the safeguard scheme to allow disabled end users to nominate a third party who can notify their provider of faults with the service (to apply to voice and broadband providers); and
- To add an obligation for Communications Providers to regularly inform disabled subscribers of the products and services suitable for them.
1.7 We invite responses to this call for inputs by 22 February 2013. We plan to engage with a range of stakeholders during the consultation period. Subject to the responses we receive and any further evidence we are able to collect, we would be looking to consult on any specific proposals later in 2013.