Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thailand - Telcos fail disabled customers

[bangkokpost] A survey has shown that telecom services in Thailand are still providing an inadequate service for disabled people, especially the visually impaired, as there are no braille bills or prepaid cards.

Prawit Leesatapornwongsa, Director of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Institute (TCI) under the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), announced that a study in co-operation with the Thailand Productivity Institute into telecoms consumer awareness and satisfaction, with 8,000 respondents - both disabled and able-bodied - across 39 provinces found that only 36 percent of disabled people use public telephones due to a lack of availability of phones equipped to serve wheelchair users or hearing-impaired customers.

As for the mobile phone service,78 percent of visually disabled users face service problems, especially in refilling credit on prepaid services, while 21 percent claimed devices and/or software tailored to disabilities were too expensive, and 13 percent said they don't know how to use these special devices anyway. Furthermore, 10 percent said they had no way of checking their bills.

Meanwhile 31 percent of those with hearing disabilities claimed that they cannot send or receive SMS and that mobile phones for disabled people are expensive.

Regarding Internet service, the survey found that websites do not typically support disabled users, despite 12 percent of this group access the Internet at home, which is higher than the national average of around 9 percent.

"Another concern is that the study found 47 of respondents do not check their [phone] billing details," Prawit said.

He continued that that digital divide is another issue for both disabled and able-bodied users, as in the survey almost 50 percent said there are not enough public telephones, especially in the Northeastern region.

Eighty-four percent of respondents complained about slow response to fix problems with public telephones, and 49 percent have experienced phones swallowing coins without adding credit to the call.

Only 29 percent of the Thai population has a fixed telephone line at home, with this figure lower still in the Northeastern region, compared with Singapore which has 96 percent of households connected to a fixed line.

The digital divide is most present in rural areas and especially with tribal people, with 70 percent of this group claiming public telephones are not available in their communities.

Mobile phone take-up among this group is also below the average, with 86 percent owing handsets, compared with the national average of 98 percent.

Mobile network coverage can also be a concern, as a recent complaint from a user in Chiang Rai to the TCI detailed how he had to carry three separate phones from different operators to ensure he could find a signal if ever he experienced an emergency.

Telcos fail disabled customers

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