Hanging On The Telephone - by Barry Hill

You’d think that the telephone would be the great playing field leveller when it comes to being blind versus sighted.  After all, for both groups, it’s just a voice coming through a speaker.  And you’d be spot on when it comes down to the actual speaking bit.  If we were still at the slightly post Graham Bell stage, then I think the rest of the experience would be also pretty accessible for me.  Thing is, we’re in this great technological age where a telephone is much more than just a device to talk through.


Even the simple house phone is no longer simple and hasn’t been since the old dial ones.  Actually, I’m glad I went blind post dial phones.  I’m not glad I went blind, just glad that I don’t have to use one.  There wouldn’t really be a technique to find the numbers other than counting round.  That would be so-o laborious with an eleven-digit number.  You’d have to really want to make that call to do that.  Still, what a great excuse for not dialling long distance or ringing mobiles.  “Sorry for not ringing you back.  I got a blister on my finger halfway through dialling your mobile.”


Dial phones were replaced by the push button phone that just had the numbers on.  No, I’m not making it up you Millennials.  They really did just have ten buttons.  The next incarnation stuck two more buttons on there, probably for uniformity so that the zero wasn’t left on its own.  Yup, we got the Asterix and hash buttons (That’s ‘the star and gate’ buttons to you and me).  I’ve no idea which way around they are, so when the automated system says, “Press the star button”, I just guess.  Well, it’s 50/50 whether I get what I want or get thrown right back to the beginning of the 52-step automated process.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like automated systems.  Well, I prefer them to the 25 minutes pan pipes repeated rendition of Greensleeves or twenty seconds in the middle of Blondies ‘Hanging on the telephone’ endlessly repeated.  Why do they do that, play just a part of a song over and over?n  I suspect that it is designed to irritate the snot out of the caller so that they don’t hang on the telephone.  I just put it on hands free, stick the phone in my pocket and get on with whatever I want until the torture stops.  It’s not my fault if I’m sat on the toilet when they eventually answer.  I suppose they won’t really know that I’m sat on the toilet until I flush.


Once we got used to the extra couple of buttons, manufacturers saw a marketing potential to improve our lives by installing a mute button that we were never sure was working and only found out when the person on the other end of the phone objected to you calling them such an arse.  My grandmother never really got over that one.


The proliferation of buttons soon multiplied as phones got more and more complicated.  My house phone now has 24 buttons on it.  I know the on and end call buttons, the one to ten, and sort of know the hash and Asterix buttons, but I haven’t a scooby what the rest do.  For all I know, they might control my TV, call the Star ship Enterprise or launch Trident.   Oh, and there’s probably a mute button on there somewhere. 


Right, you’ve got the history there.  You can see how we got from simple to bloody complicated for a blind man.  There is one saving grace.  Just about every phone has a pip, a little nipple on the number five.  That’s for people like me, so don’t go picking it off with your nail when you’re sat on hold. 


Still, this pip doesn’t help when I ring to check my balance with my new bank account using the automated telephone banking.  It went something like this:

Bank: “Main menu.  Press one for balance, two to make a payment, three to give the CEO a 15% pay rise….  To return to the main menu at any time, press star”

Me: I found and pressed one.

Bank: “Please key in your sixteen-digit account number” 

Me: “Are you taking the piss?”


I hung up, took a photo of my card and sent it to my mum so that she could read it back to me for me to write on my computer (it talks).  I then rang back the telebanking.  This time I was ready for the sixteen-digit bit.  Ready, but not fast.  I reckon they give you sixteen seconds to type sixteen digits.  Fine if you can see both the card and the digits on the phone.  Not so fine if you’re using your only hand (one’s holding the phone) to operate the computer keyboard to read the numbers back to you then trying to find said numbers on the phone keypad.  I tried.  I failed.  As I was invited to do so, I tried again.  I failed again.  Ah, but I was ok.  She next told me to press the hash key to be put through to some fuzzy line in India to speak to someone who will struggle with my Yorkshire accent as much as I will struggle with their Indian accent.  I pushed the button.  She said, “Main menu.  To select balance….”


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