Public Loop Systems – The UK

Fourteen different service providers in central London that fall under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) (an act that requires all public service providers to make reasonable adjustment to their service in order to make it equally accessible to individuals with a disability) were visited and surveyed with regards to their existing loop systems. The services included hospitals, banks, churches, theatres, cinemas and opticians. Enquiries were made about accessibility, maintenance, service and customer feedback and complaints.
1 Accessibility
Of the 14 services visited only 10 had a loop installed that was in working order and could be included in the research. 100% of these services that had a loop in working order advertised the loop by displaying the standard ‘T’ sign. Not only was this sign on display but also 90% of staff understood what the sign was communicating. Awareness of what the loop itself did and how it could be used was less than impressive with 40% of employees receiving no information on this with a subsequent 50% of individuals reporting that they would not feel happy advising a deaf or hard of hearing individual on how to use the loop installed. However, 100% of those asked would appreciate further information and advice on loop systems and how to advise people on their use. Clearly, the provision of public loop systems is not enough without sufficient staff awareness training.
2 Maintenance and Service
An encouraging 60% of service providers had had their loop serviced since its installation, however only one venue regularly serviced the loop. Of further concern is the fact that only 3 of the 10 venues had a regular monitoring and testing program in place, with only one venue owning a monitoring device to test the loop. These findings suggest that once a loop has been installed servicing and monitoring is minimal and below desirable levels. It is debatable as to whether this finding is due to the simplicity of the technology and lack of maintenance required for day to day running or whether it is due to a lack of awareness and knowledge of the need for regular monitoring and maintenance being in place.
3 Customer Feedback and Complaints
A third of the employees asked were aware that they had received a complaint or number of complaints in the past about the loop system. However, the small number of complaints reported may not correlate closely to the actual amount of dissatisfaction experienced. It is encouraging however to see that 4 service providers have asked for feedback from their customers and this proved useful in confirming whether the loop was in working order or not. Problems highlighted were also solved quickly and easily.
4 Infra Red (IR) and Radio (FM) Alternatives
Feedback received from those 2 services that had an FM or an IR system were that they were both able to inform customers on how to use the system and had staff responsible for charging and cleaning and replacing ear tips. This finding suggests (although the numbers asked are limited) that the more complex IR and FM systems that require more maintenance in their daily use actually serves to increase staff awareness. Perhaps the simplicity of inductive loop systems work to a disadvantage when we are directly concerned with staff awareness of the system itself, although if the more complex systems were widespread it is reasonable to assume that other problems would be found.
5 Conclusions
The DDA (1995) has ensured that a large number of public service providers in the UK are making reasonable adjustments by providing a loop system. However this research shows staff awareness, maintenance and servicing of current systems is low. Future technological solutions should seek to address this issue from the outset.