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Mystery Shoppers Find Scottish Companies Are Out of the Loop

If you use a hearing aid and live in Scotland, there’s roughly a 25 percent chance you’re not getting the service you’re supposed to get. But it took a mystery shopping service to figure that out.

Start to sign    RNID
Image by Rhian vK via Flickr

The BBC recently reported that the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) — a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom that helps people identify whether they have a hearing loss, campaigns for change, provides services and training, and supports scientific and technological research — sent mystery shoppers to 500 stores in the Scottish cities of Dundee, Glasgow, Paisley, and Falkirk to investigate the use of hearing loops.

Of the 500 stores the mystery shoppers evaluated, only 132 of them, about 20 percent, had hearing loops available to customers. And 32 of the shops that displayed signs promoting the loops either hadn’t installed them, didn’t have them working properly or hadn’t trained staff members on using them.

The loops enable those with hearing aids — there are 168,000 living in Scotland — to use their devices as a direct line to an establishment’s internal sound system. While many hearing-impaired people can get by with just their hearing aids or lip reading in casual conversation, a loud retail environment can be especially challenging. And if deaf shoppers are planning to make a serious purchase, their ability to hear and communicate as well as possible is paramount.

The United Kingdom’s Equality Act of 2010 places mandates that retailers allow equal access to disabled and able-bodied shoppers — according to the story, the RNID is warning companies that they may be breaking the law by not having working loops.

According to the BBC’s story, many of the offending retailers thought they in full compliance and using the loops properly, but they weren’t. One store was quite proud to have the loop, but it had never made it out of the box.

In many cases, it was simply good intentions gone awry.

In an interesting twist, of all the stores mystery shoppers investigated, the BBC’s report found the biggest offenders were communications specialists, such as Carphone Warehouse and a T-Mobile store. In each case, the corporate entities responded with apologies and a promise to ensure the loops were in working order going forward.

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