Andrew and Sandra Niklaus

How uno’s live chat message service helps the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing

| | 4 minute read

Andrew Niklaus, who has been deaf since birth, used uno’s online chat function to find his ideal home loan. This is his story.

Working in the disabilities support and childcare industries, my wife Sandra and I could only dream of owning a family house. I work infrequent casual hours, she holds a part-time job and the strong housing market has meant rapidly rising prices.

Eighteen years ago, I had a chance encounter with Sandra at one of many summer festivals I attended while working in Europe. After 10 years in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, we moved to Australia in 2009 with our three Swiss Aussie children so they could be educated locally. In 2012, we relocated to the Lower Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

Sandra works at a childcare centre as a cook, while I do various jobs as a community support worker (in disabilities support) for The Deaf Society in Parramatta. Both of us do occasional support and deaf relay interpreting jobs for deafblind customers, and I volunteer as a deaf liaison officer for community emergency preparedness. I work with the NSW State Emergency Service, Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue NSW, Red Cross and the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing communities on behalf of The Deaf Society.

Getting a loan

With an unannounced inheritance arriving just before Christmas 2016, our goal of a family home suddenly became a real possibility. We wanted to stay in the Blue Mountains so our kids could remain in touch with their friends but we needed a mortgage, and a process that didn’t require voice calls.

We sent emails to two local brokers and contacted uno Home Loans. Tim Bowcock, who is uno’s head of mortgage services, gave us friendly and prompt responses via the online “live chat” messaging service. For me, going with uno was a no-brainer – it was the best fit for us.

Given my casual job history and other financial restrictions, several mortgage providers and banks could only offer us limited home-loan options. But uno mortgage coach Phillip Jiang told us not to worry, and that a good deal was possible.

Regardless of the time of day or evening, the “live chat” messaging made it possible to exchange all necessary details at our convenience. It didn’t matter if I was on a train, away at a workshop or cafe, or at home. The uno website made it easy for us to upload multiple documents – IDs, payslips, statements and legal documents – for mortgage providers to view.

When dealing with businesses and organisations, I often use the National Relay Service (NRS) to make outgoing relayed phone calls. But this was simply not needed with uno, and it proved to be a massive time saver. uno Home Loans says it’s more than willing to accept new customers from the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing communities via online services (NRS, live chat or emails).

Property success

Sandra and I are two of 30,000 Auslan users across Australia. A higher percentage of deaf people have lower literacy levels than the general population – a result of schooling systems and a world that focuses on spoken and written words, sidelining national sign languages, though this has changed for the better in some countries. (The NRS provides video relay calls for those who prefer Auslan over English but only during business hours.)

Communicating with vendors isn’t easy when you’re deaf. I was able to use NDIS funds to book Auslan interpreters for face-to-face meetings, and this was helpful at one house inspection when the other party didn’t have sufficient time to write detailed notes.

After three months of house hunting, we bought a nice family home with native plants and trees in the backyard. My family would have preferred that my departed mother could have been part of this journey but that wasn’t possible. She loved native gardens.

Phillip Jiang says he felt fortunate to be in a position to be able to assist, thanks to uno’s technology. “I truly enjoyed being part of that unique experience,” he says.

I was also pleased by the flexibility shown by uno Home Loans. By 2050, one in every 4 Australians will have some degree of hearing loss. Features such as uno’s “live chat” service are great for those who prefer online communications, not phone calls.

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Peter Gearin is a writer and former senior editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald. Now director of Top to Tale Media, he writes for unohomeloans.com.au.

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