Living with Aphasia- Chopping Down the Telephone Tree

Living with Aphasia

Chopping Down the Telephone Tree

By Baylis

After three recent telephone calls that were very frustrating, I had one of those “Wild: Out of the Blue Thoughts.” What if George Washington had chopped down his father’s telephone tree instead of his father’s cherry’ tree?

Telephone trees are those automated response systems that you get when you call many businesses or professional offices. You know the ones, where a very polite individual with either a very pleasant or super business-like voice says, “Please listen to the following options and select the most appropriate. If you want       information about XYZ, press 1; if you want information about PQR, press 2; if you want information about ABC, press 3; and usually after what seems to be half an hour, if you want to speak to an operator, press 0. Even before my aphasia, I had problems with these telephone trees. Many times, I had difficulty in relating my problem to the options provided, so most of the time I would dutifully press 0. After my aphasia I have two new problems: 1) I can’t follow the options. I don’t understand what they are saying as they are saying them; and 2) by the time the list is finished, I can’t remember what number corresponded with what option.  For awhile I tried writing down the options as they were listed. However, on many of these trees the speed at which the list was given was way too fast for me to follow and write down an intelligible note with corresponding number from the telephone pad. To get the list repeated, I couldn’t remember what number to push. I tried a plan that was suggested to me by a friend who said he had discovered a way around these telephone trees. He said he always punches in 0 repeatedly, as soon as the list starts and continues to press 0 until a real live person speaks on the other end of the phone. Before all of you start following this plan, the telephone companies are smart enough to know what people are doing, so they have recommended businesses change-up their options on their trees, sometimes even removing 0 as a viable alternative altogether.

Before everyone accuses me of hating all telephone trees, I will admit that there have been several times during my 40 years as an academic administrator that I have implemented them in offices that I was supervising. In each of these cases it was to ease the workload of an overworked receptionist who would have had to divert her attention from the steady stream of live students that had come into the office for service. Who do you want to offend the most, the student standing right in front of you or the individual on the phone that you can’t see and who can’t see you? The purpose of the tree was to direct calls to an appropriate person to handle the question, or in off-hour times when the office was closed, to get the customers to the appropriate answering machine or voice mail so that their question could be answered quickly the next time the office was opened. When we set up those phone trees, we tried to make them very simple and short with no more than 3 options, not like some of the ones that I have encountered recently. On one call last week, there were 8 options, not counting the option of talking to an operator which was option 7. If you pushed 0 on that tree, the list of options started all over again. “AHA, Tricky, we got you!”

I am convinced that some of these telephone trees would not pass muster with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Where’s George when you need him?


About By Baylis β2

Ph.D. in mathematics; 40 years as an instructor and administrator in Christiian colleges & Universities; principle writer & initial director of critically acclaimed assessment project "Taking Values Seriously:Assessing the Mission of Church-Related Collges." Currently medically retired on disability due to traumatic brain episode which began with a blood vessel in a brain tumor exploding in March 2009, causing the tumor to implode creating many stroke-like symptoms; the remains of the benign tumor removed in March 2009 followed by many months of intenesive therapy that shifted gears when 4 tonic-clonic seizures in December 2009 left me unconscious in the hospitable for four days. I am now diagnosed with aphasia, epilepsy, Atrial Fibrillation, and the beginning stages of Parkinson's. Since I can't work a normal job in higher education, I spend my days reading, thinking and writing about higher education, epilespsy and aphasia. I have a blog, entitled By' Musings, in which I speak about topics of great interest to me: aphasia, epilesy, Parkinson's, higher education and religion. This blog canl be accessed through the URL of which is included in this profile.
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6 Responses to Living with Aphasia- Chopping Down the Telephone Tree

  1. Michael Biel says:

    The ADA hasn’t worked at all for individuals with aphasia. But then, historically speaking, there hasn’t been a very strong/large aphasia disability rights movement(?)

    • You are absolutely correct. In fact you could have put a period after “all.” As a college administrator, too many times I would have said “THe ADA hasn’t worked at all.” In the college setting, the ADA can force some physical changes in buildings, but the ADA can’t force changes in people’s minds and hearts. If instructors and administrators do not take seriously a commitment to equal opportunity and leveling the playing field, it’s not just individuals with aphasia who are “handicapped” in the sense of not being able to achieve their full potential. If people don’t have the heart for it, the physical changes in buildings will be just the minimum necessary to meet compliance regulations, if that. If instructors don’t have the heart for it, students’ needs and potential will be ignored. People need to take to heart the lyrics of the 1970 Joe South country hit, “Walk a mile in my shoes. Before your abuse, criticize, or accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.”

      Your second point is also abolutely right.”…there hasn’t been a very strong/aphasia disability rights movement” or even a very strong aphasis awareness movement. Bob Woodruff is the only individual that I am aware of that has gone somehwat public with his fight with expressive aphasia. Is it time we put together a campaign to raise national/international awareness? Could someone approach Bob Woodruff and ask him to be the Michael J. Fox or Doug Flutie for aphasia?

      • Michael Biel says:

        I think you nailed it. The commitment has to be there.

        There’s a massive amount of awareness/education that needs to be done. Seems to me that most of the advocacy energy is spent on access to treatment and better treatments as opposed to the social needs of people with aphasia (though I know of some dedicated individuals who are working on these concerns).

      • Thank you Michael for bringing us back to both of the major concerns of people with aphasia and their caregivers. They want to know what treatments are available and how will they work for them. But they also have a concern for how they are going to live their lives. I believe a key person in this equation is the speech therapist who works with the individual and caregiver, and is in the best position to help. The therapist has to not only “treat the symptoms of aphasia” but must also be vigilant to sense their social needs, and have enough knowledge of the local community to be able to link the patient and the caregiver with the local person or organization that can best meet their social needs. It is a tall order and places a great deal of responsibility on one individual or a team. I thank God for a wonderful team of therapists and one lead therapist in particular. I wish there was some way to honor these capable, hard working individuals who help people put their lives back together.

  2. Jen Reed says:

    What do you think about the idea that even though there is a prerecorded voice promting you to make your selection and leaving you confused, that as your yelling at the prerecorded voice since you’ve pushed the number you wanted and it didn’t work, that there is still someone there listening to you, laughing at you, since it’s not their job anymore to answer the phone, the prerecorded voice is. Think about that one. Love ya dad, Jen

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