Don't let companies take advantage of hearing-impaired elderly

My father is elderly. He is well-educated, working full time and has no mental impairment. But it has become difficult to represent his interests.

Like many old people, my father has poor hearing. He finds it difficult to conduct phone conversations even with hearing aids.

By meeting in person, a hearing-impaired person could use pen and paper and point to text documents to clarify doubts.

But many companies decline to provide physical help desks or office addresses where you can go in person.

Many do not respond adequately to queries and issues raised in writing. If I write in to them, they insist on calling my father's number rather than write back. Then he can hear only bits of the conversation and lacks the confidence to proceed.

The problem is exacerbated by the shift towards using foreign call centres. Singaporeans can communicate effectively by switching to Singlish or Mandarin to resolve doubts, but foreigners speak only English in an unfamiliar accent.

My father can barely deal with phone conversations with Singaporeans, let alone fast-speaking foreigners. Often, I have had to pose as my father over the phone because there is no alternative, and with the move towards voice biometrics I will soon not be able to help him.

My father had the greatest difficulty using his credit card because everything had to be done over the phone.

He couldn't question his charges, raise disputes or obtain fee waivers. When he went to cancel his card at one of the branches, they insisted he use the helpline. We had to sit beside him to assist.

My father is a hearing-impaired, Internet-illiterate senior who rarely uses his phone. His telco once charged his credit card $1,400 in a month. And both the telco and the bank insisted on communicating only via phone, with the result that my father was helpless to dispute this charge.

The telco also insists that he renew his contract verbally. But when my father is unsure of what he hears, he asks: "yes?" This should not be taken as consent.

Singapore is ageing, and many seniors are in similar straits.

I hope the Government can assist with suitably tailored legislation. Major companies should be compelled to maintain avenues of communication via letter or physical offices. This would prevent discrimination against our hearing-impaired senior citizens.

Goh Chen Fong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2019, with the headline 'Don't let companies take advantage of hearing-impaired elderly'. Print Edition | Subscribe