When you have a problem with your box or your washing machine, you call the customer service of the seller. A formality for most French, but not for the six million people suffering from hearing disorders. Since one year ago, the law obliges large companies, with a turnover of more than 250 million euros, to offer a customer service accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. A system that is set up slowly.
Counselors who are fluent in sign language
Indeed, not all companies can afford to adapt their internal customer service to the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. Some have delegated this function to specialized centers, such as Sourdline. In the suburbs of Paris, this platform created in 2008, well before the law, serves as a relay between hearing-impaired people and the after-sales services of some forty companies such as Louis Vuitton, Canal +, Carglass, Sephora, Sony, etc. On their site, these companies must make a referral to their partner platform to guide clients with hearing problems ( example below with Conforama ).
The procedure for deaf people is then quite simple: they call in video through a webcam and are put in touch with a specialist advisor. At Sourdline, 80% of teleoperators are also deaf and hard of hearing. The exchange is then done directly in sign language, or by written chat, because the counselors are trained by the brands to use their tools and therefore empowered to answer on their behalf.
More progress to be made
But there are also speaking interpreters who are fluent in sign language. They make the intermediary with the customer service of the brand: "Hello ma'am, I am Geoffroy de la Sourdline for Conforama.I call you for a deaf person who is in webcam with me.I can translate? 'left."
These very rare profiles are particularly sought after by the platforms because the law has boosted their activity: + 200% in one year in the case of Sourdline. And there is some margin: "In reality, very few people, hearing-impaired or not, are aware that this possibility exists," says Jérémie Boroy, a member of the Foundation for Hearing and himself deaf." It's important that the hearing impaired are not dependent on anyone "
This law has greatly facilitated the lives of deaf people. "Before, deaf people were forced to ask a hearing person close to them - friend, family, colleague, neighbor - to call in their place for their steps, and today they can call themselves when they want, since their home or since their work, "rejoices Caroline Mitanne, founder of Sourdline and herself a child of deaf parents. "The hard of hearing become actors in their efforts and it is very important that they are not dependent on anyone."
The first assessment is positive therefore, although there is still much to do. Indeed, in the absence of real sanctions, all companies do not play the game yet. According to the associations, only 10% of the 1,500 companies concerned by the legal obligation offer a customer service adapted to the deaf and hard of hearing. "The law is a good initiative but still lacks clarity.There should be a common actor that brings together all stakeholders and informs the public of the available devices," said Jérémie Boroy. "It's coming slowly, it's normal."
Telephone operators do their part
To make it easier for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, telephone operators have been put to use by law. They are now required to offer one hour of free communication per month via a simultaneous written and visual translation service (in this case the RogerVoice application) to their hearing-impaired clients. "This is a considerable progress that has been made and that contributes to improving the daily lives of French people with disabilities," says Arthur Dreyfuss, president of the French Federation of Telecoms.
But again, this is only a first step. "One hour is going fast, many deaf people are tempted to save money in the event of a real big problem," says Jeremy Boroy. In fact, the offer will be extended to three hours a month in October 2021 and five hours in 2026.