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Choosing a Customer Focused Relationship whith Service Providers

There are a number of organizations in the public, nonprofit, and private sector providing services to blind, deafblind and partially sighted people throughout Canada.

With so many new accessible technologies being introduced that enable our community with access to information anytime and anywhere, , greater numbers of blind people can be found online and connecting with others who share a common vision and interest in the benefits of accessibility as the means of joining, participating and contributing to the social and economic life of Canada. Some people call this self-determination, which essentially says that, "we think, speak and decide for ourselves.”

Traditional models of service delivery designed for blind people are being challenged as to their relevance in a digital age; most importunate of these challenges is when service providers are given the opportunity to speak on behalf of blind, deafblind and partially sighted people living in Canada, and do so even after they have agreed with our grassroots consumer organizations that we as blind people are the appropriate channel to speak for ourselves. As blind people we are increasingly more connected to each other and are organized and focused on advocacy with a governance model which reflects our democratic values. Through our duly elected representatives, we are pushing back on organisations which proport to speak on our behalf.

Times have changed, and the nature of digital information, communications and technology has opened up opportunities and possibilities for people everywhere. . Accompanying that change is an expectation that traditional organisations serving the needs of blind people must alter their policy and practices, especially where they intrude on our rights, freedoms, dignity, independence and autonomy and do not reflect modern democratic values at all levels of an organisation. These organizations must acknowledge that blind people are primarily clients and not members, and as such any activity involved in advocacy is not only inappropriate, but lacks the essential representation at a Board level to ensure integrity and fairness in communications initiatives, given the traditional Governance models and corporate structure.

As consumers, we have the right to choose the places where we shop. Some may prefer to shop for groceries at a retail chain, and others may choose to shop exclusively at farmers markets; some may choose to shop at both. The point is that organisations providing products and services are simply one of many options available to us today, but many more options are emerging in the online world, providing consumers the ability to choose. Ultimately, we are the customers and we choose our shopping venues for any number of reasons, and that reasoning lies solely with us. For instance, I choose to shop in places that meet my criteria on independence, anonymity, price, selection, customer experience and satisfaction, because as a consumer those are the values that are of importance to me. In an accessible online world, there is no disability, only ability, and we are able to choose for ourselves.

Ask yourself this: would it be okay for a grocery or box store to speak on behalf of all consumers and take an advocacy role with the Consumer Protection Agency with respect to the benefits of their product or service? No. Would you allow them to represent you as an individual and speak on your behalf because you are the one who does the groceries in your household?

It is the same situation for our community of blind people; there are organisations which use words and images that portray blind people with the most serious vulnerabilities as an acceptable representation of who we are generally. Misleading tactics are deployed as a means of soliciting donations (such as the images and words used in high profile campaigns) and are not only an inappropriate representation of blind people generally and increase the risk of stereotyping, but may also have the unintended consequence of making blind people targets of pity, financial and physical abuse.

With this said, it is important to reiterate that organizations serving the needs of blind people must recognize that we are customers -not members- of most service providers and that the sole responsibility of the organization is to provide product and service offerings to individuals who wish to shop with them , rather than speak for an entire community that has a right to choose not only where we purchase products and services, but are also fully capable of electing representatives with a membership driven mandate to advocate on matters of importance to blind, deafblind and partially sighted members.

It is well past time for modernizing the governance and roles of service providers in a modern digital age where the real disability is not having access to the power of technology to level the playing field in the 21st century.


This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.
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