ARCHIVED - Order CRTC 2001-164

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Order CRTC 2001-164


Ottawa, 26 February 2001


Access to Bell Canada's SimplyOne by persons who are blind


Reference: 8620-S49-01/00


In this order, the Commission directs Bell Canada to make available, upon request, information on the rates, terms and conditions of the SimplyOne service in alternative format to persons who are blind.


In Order 2001-163, also released today, the Commission directs all Canadian carriers to show cause why they should not have a similar obligation to make available such information in relation to all their retail telecommunications services (wireless or wireline).


On 10 June 2000, Mr. Chris Stark filed an application under Part VII of the CRTC Telecommunications Rules of Procedure requesting that the Commission order Bell Canada to provide equal and equitable service to blind customers in the provision of its SimplyOne line of wireless telephones. Mr. Stark submitted that he has been denied the benefits of the Telecommunications Act (the Act) because he is blind.


Mr. Stark requested that the Commission order Bell Canada to:


a) provide information (on demand) with regard to pricing, terms and conditions and handset operating manuals, in alternative format for blind persons in retail outlets;


b) offer a wireless handset with features that would allow blind consumers access to information contained on the handset screen in an equivalent manner as available to sighted consumers;


c) offer wireless handsets with differently shaped function keys, a raised pip on the number five key, increased key spacing and concave key shape;


d) train its staff to serve blind persons effectively, and that the Commission request and review the training material; and


e) ensure that its Special Needs Centres have information about wireless products that are available for the blind.


Bell Canada filed a response, dated 18 September 2000, to Mr. Stark's application and responses to Commission staff interrogatories dated 9 November 2000. The Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) filed a submission dated 30 November 2000. Bell Canada filed a submission dated 8 December 2000 in reply to the CNIB's submission. Mr. Stark filed a further submission dated 10 December 2000 in reply to Bell Canada and the CNIB.


The Commission has considered all of the submissions. The Commission has examined Mr. Stark's allegations pursuant to its jurisdiction under sections 27(2) and 24 of the Act.


Section 27(2) of the Act provides that:


No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.


Pursuant to section 27(4) of the Act, the burden of establishing that any discrimination is not unjust, or any disadvantage is not undue or unreasonable is on the Canadian carrier.


According to section 24 of the Act:


The offering and provision of any telecommunications service by a Canadian carrier are subject to any conditions imposed by the Commission or included in a tariff approved by the Commission.


Information on prices, terms and conditions


With respect to information about prices, terms and conditions for the SimplyOne service, Bell Canada submitted this information is available from its staff at its retail outlets, by telephone (310-BELL) and through the company's "Special Needs Centres", which were established to provide information for special needs persons (including blind persons). Bell Canada stated that its staff is well trained to handle special needs customers. In addition, Bell Canada stated that such information is available on its web site, which is compliant with industry standard software on the market specific to visually impaired computer users. Bell Canada also noted that it provides bills and bill inserts which advise existing customers of the introduction of new services and changes to rates for existing services in alternative formats (i.e., braille, large print and computer diskette) pursuant to Telecom Orders CRTC 96-1191, dated 29 October 1996, and 98-626, dated 26 June 1998.


In its submission, the CNIB clarified that it had not commented on the specific accessibility of Bell Canada's web site.


Mr. Stark submitted that the availability of information about prices, terms and conditions in alternative format at Bell Canada's retail outlets is necessary in order for blind persons to evaluate the various service options and pricing plans before making a purchase. He submitted that Bell Canada's current methods of providing such information to blind customers, whether via a web site or verbally, are designed to complement, not substitute, printed material. He argued that information provided orally does not have the same value as printed material in order to enable blind persons to shop and compare offers, terms and conditions. He stated that the information he received at Bell Canada's retail outlets and over the telephone was not satisfactory and did not sufficiently address his needs.


The Commission considers that customers and potential customers (customers) require sufficient information about a service in order to be able to compare services available in the market and to make an informed choice. In this regard, it is of fundamental importance that customers have access to information about the rates, terms and conditions of a service, which may change over time. The Commission agrees with the position of Mr. Stark that customers who are blind are at a disadvantage by not being able to obtain, in a format that meets their needs, the rates, terms and conditions of the SimplyOne service. The Commission finds that the disadvantage is undue, contrary to section 27(2) of the Act. Therefore, the Commission considers that Bell Canada should be required to make available within a reasonable period of time and in the alternative format (i.e., braille, large print, computer diskette) requested by a person who is blind, information setting out the rates, terms and conditions of its SimplyOne service.


Staff training


The Commission is satisfied, based on the record, that Bell Canada has adequately addressed the need to have trained staff available to specifically meet the needs of customers who are blind, or have other special needs. Bell Canada has set up a Special Needs Centre in Toronto and Montréal. The centres can be reached throughout Canada by way of a toll-free number.


Operating manuals


Mr. Stark submitted that it is essential that handset instruction manuals be available in alternative format for use by blind persons. He stated that he was unable to obtain sufficient assistance with respect to handset information at Bell Canada's retail outlets (e.g., he was not informed about available documentation of any of the SimplyOne wireless handsets) and the Special Needs Centre personnel stated that wireless service was outside their mandate.


Bell Canada stated that, as of November 2000, the Special Needs Centres will provide information and assistance to blind persons with respect to wireless services and handset features. It also stated that at least one of its handset manufacturers provides an alternative format operating manual upon request. Bell Canada submitted that with assistance from staff in retail outlets, by telephone, its web site and from the Special Needs Centres, blind persons have a sufficiently accessible source of information about handsets which would enable them to choose the appropriate handset and to operate it efficiently.


The Commission considers that, in light of the limited availability of information in alternative format from handset manufacturers, Bell Canada is taking reasonable steps to address the needs of blind persons in the circumstances of the current marketplace. The Commission encourages Bell Canada to work with handset manufacturers to develop instructions manuals and related materials that are accessible to blind persons.


Handset features


Mr. Stark requested that the handset keypad should be designed to accommodate blind persons (i.e., differently shaped function keys, a raised pip on the number five, increased key spacing and concave key shape). He also requested that the information available on the handset screen, such as connection status, be made accessible to blind persons. Mr. Stark submitted that access to information contained on the handset screen is essential for blind persons to be able to receive the same value from the service as sighted users.


Bell Canada stated that most handsets available for the SimplyOne service have a raised pip (on, below or above the number five key) to facilitate tactile orientation for blind persons, and that some SimplyOne handsets allow speech activated speed dialing. Bell Canada also stated that handset equipment that would make all of the information contained on the handset screen accessible to blind users is simply unavailable from manufacturers. Bell Canada noted that it does not manufacture wireless handsets and submitted that it has little leverage to influence manufacturers' handset designs or other features.


The CNIB stated that accessing wireless handset functions and screen displayed information poses considerable accessibility problems.


Mr. Stark stated that a raised pip should be on the number five key and not above or below it. He also stated that speech activated speed dialing is an access device that benefits people with disabilities that have difficulty pressing the keys, and that it is not an access device for enabling blind persons to receive information from the screen or more easily use the keypad features.


The Commission considers that a raised pip does not necessarily have to be on the number five key in order to facilitate tactile orientation by blind persons. Further, the Commission notes that in many cases wireless handsets contain differently shaped function keys that would also facilitate tactile orientation.


The Commission notes that, according to Bell Canada, handset manufacturers have not made available a model that is capable of translating digital data that appear on the handset screen into alternative formats accessible by persons who are blind. Given the current state of handset technology that is widely and practicably available, the Commission considers that it would be unreasonable to require Bell Canada to offer handsets that the company submits are not available in the marketplace. In the circumstances, the Commission considers that no further action is warranted at this time. However, the Commission encourages Bell Canada to work with manufacturers to develop handsets that would better address the needs of persons who are blind.


Relief granted


In light of the above, the Commission directs, pursuant to section 24 of the Act, that as a condition of offering and providing SimplyOne service, Bell Canada make available, within a reasonable period of time and in the alternative format (i.e., braille, large print, computer diskette) requested by a person who is blind, information setting out the rates, terms and conditions of its SimplyOne service.


Secretary General


This document is available in alternative format upon request and may also be examined at the following Internet site: 

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