Support for consumer transactions

Working with consumers and industry to develop practices and processes to improve access for consumers with disabilities.

People with cognitive disabilities who may experience decision-making impairment have a right to be recognised as legal actors and, where necessary, supported to contract for goods and services. An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Melbourne Social Equity Institute Foundation Director Professor Bernadette McSherry is undertaking a program of research to build expertise and tools for supporting people with intellectual or mental impairments* to engage as economic actors on an equal basis with others.

A 2016 pilot study looked at the ‘front-end’ of consumer transactions for essential services – the initial entry point into a contract. It entailed interviews with people with intellectual or mental impairments, as well as consumer advocates and lawyers, and industry representatives. The study focused on four industry sectors of interest – telecommunications, finance, utilities, and insurance. The study indicated that consumers’ participation in transactions is limited by a lack of accessible pre-sale information, products, and easy-to-read contracts, as well as limited support for engaging with providers. Study participants agreed that improved support for decision-making could improve processes and outcomes for consumers and business.

Based on the pilot study findings, the research team is now working with stakeholders on several projects to develop processes and guidance for telecommunications, finance, utilities, and insurance retailers to improve access and support for this consumer group.

* The research team acknowledges that language in this field is important and contested. When referring to impairment and disability, the authors use the meaning established in Art 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see n 3). It states that “[p]ersons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.