by James R. Campbell
Many blind people are familiar with various chat lines for the blind. These are virtual meeting places where the disabled can connect with one another. Even though there are many chat lines on the Internet, the telephone provides access to chat lines for blind and disabled persons who don’t have, or want a computer.
These chat lines are classified as adult party lines; many have the mistaken impression that these lines are associated with phone sex and dating services. Nothing could be further from the truth. These lines provide social and emotional support to those who would otherwise live in total isolation. Medical science has a growing body of evidence that this type of support improves the overall health of those who have it, as opposed to those who don’t. People who have a social network handle stress better, are at lower risk for strokes and heart attacks, and have stronger immune systems.
Yet, many phone companies don’t take these factors into account, because they discontinue service to blind and disabled persons who frequent these chat lines.
It happens more often than we might think, and it is totally unacceptable. Companies who promise unlimited long distance are engaging in deceptive and false advertising because the customer is led to believe that unlimited long distance means just that. When unlimited long distance is promised to a consumer, once the person pays for the service, no restrictions should be placed on its use. Companies who engage in this practice are breaking the law. The Braille copy of the bill a blind person receives may not say anything about restrictions. The print bill may be different in that the fine print may contain a clause which restricts the user to 5000 minutes, or less, for example. In this event, the company is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, because they refuse to provide a disclaimer on the Braille bill, let alone that they restrict the service at all.
When a blind or disabled person purchases the service, it is the job of the customer service representative to explain any restrictions on use that are part of the contract. To do otherwise is the type of deceptive advertising covered earlier.
Unlimited service means exactly what it implies. If the service is restricted, the bill should be adjusted accordingly. The disabled are paying for something they are not receiving, because of a gross act of duplicity on the part of the phone company.
When we pay for something we aren’t getting, this is consumer fraud, and nothing short of it.
The phone companies are under various regulatory agencies:
The FCC, the Justice Department, the public Service Board, the utility companies, and the Attorney General. If these agencies don’t take the phone companies to task for their duplicity, then the question becomes one of whether these agencies are guilty by association and dereliction of duty. Agencies who fail to investigate, regulate, and if necessary, prosecute the major players in this fiasco are Awol—Absent without leave—and for that, there is no excuse.
At one point in recent history, Congress saw a need to provide technology, communications equipment, and funding to the elderly and disabled. The result was the Older Americans Act, which seeks to serve that very purpose. This technology allows the elderly and disabled to contact doctors, nurses, and others who provide basic care and the essentials required for survival. Given what we have learned, it stands to reason that social contact fits in that category. This contact is vital, if not life-saving. The phone companies are taking advantage of people who are marginalized enough by discontinuing their service by imposing restrictions. These companies receive tax breaks and corporate welfare for providing these services. The services are direly needed by those who use them. It is a disgrace when the elderly and disabled are deprived of friendships, and even the bare necessities of life due to the greed of the double-dippers who run these companies. Seniors and the disabled lose their lifeline when our service is terminated because the companies decide that we are not respecting the restrictions they impose; but are they not disrespecting us in turn. I think so.
It is my prayer that the double-dippers who run these companies don’t find themselves in our position; forced in to dependence on the very services they seek to deny to us. I hope they never find themselves isolated, cut off, and deprived of the bare necessities of life. I know what that life is like, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Isolation will wreck your health; that is no joke. I’ve been there, done that, so I know. I would dread to think that the double-dippers who are guilty of this kind of duplicity have to go without one day, because they denied everyone else the very service that they may find themselves in dire need of.
If you feel as I do, let your representative know that you are concerned about the abuse we are put through by the phone companies. And as always, thanks for your time.
About the Author
James R. Campbell, 61, is poet and writer living with total blindness. He has a Bachelor’s in psychology. He has written articles for the Matilda Ziegler Magazine and Consumervision. A a member of Behind our Eyes, Campbell has three poem collections on CD. They can be downloaded at Recordinglibrary.org. In his free time, he likes cooking, playing harmonica, reptiles, and keeping up with current events.