eLearning for Inclusive Customer Services

Siobhán Barron, Director, National Disability Authority


Have you ever wondered about how people with intellectual disabilities can access public services? Have you ever been curious about the best way to engage with a person with sight loss, or a person with autism?

The National Disability Authority has produced a short eLearning course to train public service staff to work with customers with disabilities. The course is available at elearning.nda.ie and takes about 70-90 minutes to complete. The course is open to everyone, though the best results will come when all staff within an entire organisation take the course. This will help all staff to think about the needs of customers with disabilities.

What is eLearning?

eLearning is the computer and network-enabled transfer of skill and knowledge. This course uses a computer and the Internet to train staff on dealing with customers with disabilities. The course follows Niall, a young man with an intellectual disability as he goes to renew his passport. Niall enjoys his independence, but sometime when he needs help, Audrey will support him. Using a mix of video clips, text and visual images, staff learn about working with people with intellectual disabilities, and indeed all disabilities. They overcome any nerves to find that it’s not that difficult to provide great customer service to people with disabilities.

eLearning can offer many advantages over traditional classroom training. The major advantage is flexibility. The course is available online, and can be taken anytime (24×7) that suits the student. It can be broken up over a few short sessions, if the student prefers. So there is no need to schedule staff, trainers, classrooms and all the other bits and pieces that are required for a classroom session.

Research suggests that eLearning allows for ‘learning compression’, where learning occurs at a faster pace than generally occurs in a classroom. Students can take the course at their own pace. They aren’t held up by the slowest person in the room, and they don’t have to wait for the teacher to answer other people’s questions.

What’s in the course?

The course provides a general introduction to disability, and some details about relevant legislation in Ireland. It introduces the concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’—those changes that service providers must make to allow people with disabilities to use their services. The course explains about how different types of barriers can cause problems for people with disabilities. This includes physical barriers (such as steps or heavy doors), attitude barriers (such as the way we think or speak about people with disabilities), and unintended barriers (such as complex language or small print on a website). An Irish language version of the course will be available shortly.

The course sets our four key principles to be considered when dealing with people with disabilities:
• Take your time
• Be flexible
• Don’t assume
• Just ask.

These four commonsense principles apply to any customer service situation, but are particularly important for people with disabilities. Some people might need more time to speak, or more time to handle their paperwork, so it’s important to give people the time they need.

Service providers will need to be flexible when dealing with people with disabilities. Some people will be unable to stand in a queue for long periods, or may find it difficult to read smaller print or a form or leaflet. So the provider might need to arrange an appointment at an agreed time, or provide a large-print version of a form of leaflet. This kind of flexibility goes a long way in allowing people with disabilities to access services

Providers should avoid making assumptions about people’s abilities or disabilities. Some people will assume that persons with obvious disabilities are unable to make decisions for themselves. It would be rude and patronising for staff to deal with a carer or a parent first, or to assume that somebody needs assistance without checking beforehand.

The final principle, ‘Just ask’, encourages staff to check what assistance is needed, if any. If help is needed, then provide whatever reasonable assistance is required.

Exam time

The course includes ten multiple-choice assessment questions, to test that learners are picking up on the key points. If the learner doesn’t get the question right first time, they can go back through the relevant parts of the course and then retry the question. Learners must get at least eight out of the ten questions right in order to pass the course and get their completion certificate at the end.

Accessible to all

The course has been carefully designed to be usable by everybody. For anyone who does not use a computer, there is a booklet version of the course available for download. All videos have been scripted to make sure that people with sight loss can follow them. Subtitles and transcripts are available for all the video clips, for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Considerable care has been taken to keep the course content as short and simple as possible. Feedback from previous learners is generally very positive, including:
• ‘I like how they use plain and simple language to get things through.’
• ‘It is easy to understand.’
• ‘Easy to complete and yet very informative.’

Many public bodies are currently using the course to provide cost-effective Disability Equality training to staff. The course has been used by staff in local authorities and libraries around the country, and in agencies such as the HSE, An Post, along with a number of government departments. Over a thousand transition-year students have used the eLearning module to help prepare for their work experience over the year.

Try it out.

If you think this course might be relevant for your organisation, try it out—see elearning.nda.ie. If you would like to arrange for a custom-branded learning environment for larger organisations of at least 50 learners, please contact the National Disability Authority at admin@training.nda.ie or 01-6080405 for more information.


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