You’ve Got Mail
Yesterday, I spoke at the launch of a report about making post offices more accessible for people with sensory loss. It was the culmination of a project between Action on Hearing Loss, RNIB Cymru and Consumer Focus Wales, which saw volunteers with a range of sensory impairments visit 150 post offices across Wales and record their experiences.
Post Offices are at the heart of our communities. They provide access to a wide range of services without having to travel far from home. This is particularly valuable to those who find travel more difficult: older people, people with disabilities, people with sight or hearing loss. That’s why it’s so important that post offices are accessible to us.
What the ‘mystery shoppers’ found was a bit of a mixed picture. To use my experience as an example: one of the post offices I visited was in Powys. In trying to find it, we got completely lost, driving round and round the village; in the end we had to ask in another shop because there were no signs outside the post office identifying it as such. Once we finally got inside, it was so dark that with the limited vision that I have I couldn’t see the counter. Having said that, the woman who served me couldn’t have been more helpful, especially when she realised I had a visual impairment.
My experience was pretty typical of what the other volunteers with sight loss found. Staff often went out of their way to help once they realised somebody needed assistance, and were generally very knowledgeable about the products and services on offer. One volunteer had such a positive experience that she said it had restored her confidence to go out independently. That being said, on a third of visits people with sight loss reported difficulties caused by obstacles’ and trip hazards like steps or display stands. Several volunteers came close to hurting themselves and one was lucky to suffer only minor bruising and a cut hand after falling nearly six feet over something. Some post office staff also made volunteers feel like they were being difficult when asking for assistance: one left the post office in tears after the way she was treated.
Those volunteers with hearing loss also had a mixed experience. One of the biggest issues they uncovered was that in four out of five visits, there was no operational hearing loop system, and staff frequently seemed unable or unwilling to resolve the problem, making communication very difficult.
Ultimately, the fact that one in six visits resulted in the person with sensory loss saying they would not feel confident to use that post office again isn’t good enough. These services are right there on people’s door steps and could be so beneficial, but are completely useless if people can’t access them safely and comfortably. The report that we launched yesterday includes a number of recommendations for Post Office Limited, but top of my list would be ensuring all staff are trained on how best to deliver services to people with sensory loss and have all Post Offices evaluate their layout in terms of barriers it might create for people with sensory loss.
By Marie Francis
To download a copy of the report, visit the RNIB Cymru website:
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