Essential water services will be more easily accessible to thousands of South Australians living with a disability or medical condition as part of an Australian industry-leading program being implemented by SA Water.
SA Water’s Wider World initiative uses universal design principles to deliver improved water services to benefit all of its 1.7 million customers, including simplified water bills, meter reading help, and eventually, bill support for customers with high needs.
According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 21 per cent of South Australians live with a disability, with a further 10 per cent providing informal assistance and 3.4 per cent acting as primary caregivers.
Presented as part of the 2019 OzWater conference in Melbourne, SA Water’s General Manager Customer Delivery Kerry Rowlands said by catering for customers with the most extreme needs in society, ultimately the wider customer base will see benefit.
“Having met with our high-needs customers at a South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS) event in 2018, we realised that there were opportunities for both SA Water and the wider water industry to provide more inclusive services for customers living with daily challenges,” Kerry said.
“This included one customer who needs an average of 1200-plus litres of water per day to meet their strict hygiene requirements, which understandably takes its toll on their water bill.
“If you’ve never walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you often just don’t know what their life is like and therefore can’t appreciate the issues they face – and we needed to do that.
“Through our further research, we found that compared to the United Kingdom, services to benefit customers with disabilities in Australia was either limited or catered specifically for certain types of disabilities.
“Over the last 12 months, we have met with the Department of Human Services, SACOSS, and facilitated one-on-one meetings with our customers living with disabilities and their carers to help gain a full understanding of the challenges and experiences they face, and focus on areas where we could make changes over the coming years to help make their lives a little easier.
“We also surveyed around 50 members of our customer base living with a disability, with an overwhelming number of responses highlighting a difficulty in reading their meter or high water usage as their biggest problems when it came to water.
“Through this, we created four distinct customer persona groups – customers with high needs, communication challenges, high information needs, or those needing help with tasks – which helped us map solutions and ways to enhance our services for customers.”
The program has identified up to 15 potential initiatives or changes, with some already being implemented and others requiring investment over coming years, ranging from a language aide program for customers using Auslan and other alternate languages, as well as investigating ways to reduce the anxiety that many people with a disability face when answering the door.
Further changes include reducing the use of forms in customer interactions, which present a barrier for people with visual or cognitive disabilities, and offering more responses through email, which over 30 per cent of customers with communication challenges rely on instead of phone contact.
“Customers are truly at the heart of everything we do, and we want to make sure that anyone with any form of disability or accessibility issue is able to access our services, and that in turn, we are providing services as best we can that meet their needs,” Kerry said.
Chief Executive Officer of the South Australian Council of Social Services Ross Womersley said it is important that essential services fully understand the range of needs their customers are likely to have.
“This is a terrific example of what can happen when a retail business takes the time to begin to understand their customers and especially those customers who might have slightly different needs to the majority,” Ross said.
“This initiative from SA Water grew directly from our conference last year where we had a specific focus on the needs of people who live with disability, and we’re delighted that SA Water has gone on to try and deepen their relationships with and understanding of some of their customers who live with disability.”
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