Last weekend I received an email notification to log into my Oregon benefits portal for a message. It was nothing: a notice that if I’d been the victim of electronic theft I could get said benefits replaced. I hadn’t, so not relevant. While at the site, though, I spotted something else.
Down in the middle of my dashboard, all of which is small print, was a single sentence telling me that as part of my benefits renewal this month, I needed to call in for an appointment.
For this, of course, I never received any notification.
At any rate, what I’m coming to is the making of that phone call. Like many autistic people, telephone calls are not my favorite things. Ones that carry the potential for difficulty beyond the incorporeal social dance are worse yet.
What I never realized until this particular call, where I spent an hour on hold (which, really, in the realm of social services unfortunately is pretty good), is that the experience of being on hold is its own special sort of hell.
It’s not the waiting itself, although it is that. It’s not the endlessly looping music, although it is that.
It’s that every time the music paused to play me a message about this or that service or benefit that’s available, all of my social anxiety would be tripped, because the pause made me assume the conversation was next. These messages came every several minutes, and so over and over again I was inflicted with anxiety chest and startle response. For an hour.
These are the sorts of things that the normative world doesn’t really understand, and really a bit resists understanding even if you try to explain. Likely to be met with, “No one likes being on hold.”
The built environment—and this includes systems and processes—doesn’t take into consideration things like periodic automated messages played while having someone on hold triggering their startle response.
It’s a class of mismatches where arguably the deficits are entirely on the side of the built environment, and not on us. Mismatches where in this day and age there likely are technological fixes, such as personalized “on hold” experiences. “Press ‘1’ not to hear any messages about services.”
(Something akin to the fact that I’m waiting to hear about my public accommodations complaint filed with the state against Safeway for disabling the self-checkout “mute” function, which when you have sensory processing disorder is not just a useful feature but can be the difference between having a normative grocery experience and having one that ends with a meltdown.)
Of course, if state and federal governments felt compelled to spend money on that sort of disability accommodation, they’d also probably feel compelled to spend the money on staffing sufficient to avoid one-hour hold times altogether.