2019-02-12 00:24:27 (edited by turtlepower17 2019-02-12 00:54:30)

Hi all,
I've been fighting with myself for months on whether to post this, but recent events are piling up for me and my fear of potential consequences for posting such a thing is being outweighed by all the shit I've been going through.

Over the past couple of years, there have been a few online platforms for receiving therapy which have cropped up. You can text chat with a counselor or psychologist, as well as video chat. The two I've heard the most about and which seem reputable, from my research, are Talkspace and Betterhelp. I'm leaning more towards Talkspace because a couple of podcasts I listen to sometimes offer promo codes so that when you sign up, you get a discount on your first month of service with them.

The main thing that is stopping me, though, is whether or not such platforms are accessible. I know that many custom video chatting services are a nightmare to work with when it comes to using a screen reader. I don't necessarily want to write to the sites in question and ask if they are aware whether their platforms are screen reader friendly, though, because if I do that, and sign up, they might decide not to work with me because I'm blind. I think it would be better to disclose that later, once I've already been matched with a therapist, much like most of us only disclose our blindness once we've gotten a job interview. As sad as it is, people do discriminate, and I don't want to be out money if A. the app turns out to not be accessible after I sign up, or B. people decide they're uncomfortable after I've already paid.

So, does anyone have any experience working with these platforms? Since I am well aware that this is a sensitive, stigmatized topic that most people don't want to attach their names to, hell, I'm squeamish about it myself, if you would rather respond to this via PM, please feel free to do so. The closest I got to an answer was on an Applevis forum post where someone asked this question, but never got any responses, which I can only assume is due to the fact that this is such a taboo topic.

Oh, one more thing, the reason I'm not pursuing a more traditional approach is twofold. First, there would be major issues with me being able to get transportation to and from appointments, not to mention that the people I live with would not be at all supportive of me doing this, to put it mildly. Secondly, most private therapists charge a lot more than these sites do, and no, we're not talking about something that's too good to be true, at least not from what I can tell. Betterhelp apparently costs $40 a week, and I think Talkspace is slightly more than that. I'm going to struggle to pay for this as it is, but it's better than the alternative, since most therapists charge upwards of $100 per session.

So, if anyone can shed some light on the experience they've had with such services, I'm primarily interested in the accessibility of the IOS apps, as well as how well they work in a browser, as well as any comments you might have about whether you found the therapists to be accepting of blindness/disability in general, I would sincerely appreciate it. And, again, if you do have experiences but don't feel comfortable sharing, please don't feel pressured into doing so. I am well aware that this is a public forum, and that people lose their jobs over having their mental health struggles outed all the time. Thanks in advance.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

2019-02-12 06:05:18

I wrote a post, then added to the post, then added more to the post, so I just decided to send you a pm in the end.

Close your eyes and let the words paint a thousand pictures.

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2019-02-12 07:49:07

Thanks, I replied to your PM.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

2019-02-12 08:18:51

A few points here:

1. I live in Canada, not the United States, but in general, TalkSpace and Betterhelp are set up so that you pay for a service. if you do not get the service, and if there is no record of you receiving the service you paid for, then you will be able to pursue legal action, and such a thing would be an absolute media shitstorm if it broke. You could make their life absolute hell if that did happen to you, and while I know that's not terribly comforting and not an answer you want to hear in pursuit of therapy, the reality is that, knowing this, these companies would be extremely unlikely to reject you due to your blindness. I suppose nothing is impossible, however. My suggestion would be to write to them before signing up in order to ask them if their services are screenreader-friendly. Best cast, they are, and you give them a try. Worst case, they ignore you outright, and you're up a creek...but at least you haven't bought and paid for something.
2. I'm afraid I don't know anything about the accessibility of either platform and do not have the available means to test the services themselves (financially or time-wise), but I would be willing, if you like, to write to the company and ask the question posed in point #1 myself, so you don't have to. I could then give you an answer regarding the accessibility of one or both companies, providing I got a response.
3. Your bravery is to be commended. People can and do lose their jobs and stuff over outing mental illness, but I really wish that weren't the case. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has their own various struggles to go through, and we all need help from time to time. Whatever your problems may be, I wish you the best of luck in finding the help you need.
4. Pursuant to that point, I'm offering to help if I can, even if it's just an unofficial/casual thing. I am not a registered therapist, psychotherapist or counsellor. I am in semester 4 of a social service work diploma program, which means that while I know a great deal about social work in general, I am not a qualified, accredited expert just yet. That said, I am trained in counselling techniques and am quite up to date on various approaches which may help you, depending on the nature of your concerns. You don't know me from a hole in the wall, though, so I will more than understand if you find this forward or offputting. I won't push this offer, I'll just leave it here. Reach out in PM if it's something you're interested in making a go of. Good luck either way though.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-12 10:40:27

Hi.
I'm also interested to know the accessibility of such services if its possible.
best regards.

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2019-02-12 15:57:52

Yeah, writing to them is probably the best option. I would think they have teams who code the website and apps that are completely separate from the counseling staff, anyway, so maybe my concern wouldn't reach them at all before I signed up. I do have a couple of questions, though. Believe it or not, this is the first time I'll be writing to a company to inquire about the accessibility of their services. When you guys have done that in the past, do you include links to various screen readers in your message, or do you just summarize what a screen reader does? Do you include any other links, such as web accessibility guidelines/developer resources? I want to make sure to state my point in such a way that it will be more likely I'll get an answer, preferably from a real human and not one of those "thank you for your interest blah blah blah" bot-generated things. I don't want to come off as pushy, though, so any tips on balancing that would be appreciated.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

2019-02-12 16:33:05

While I don't know anything about the accessibility of either of the 2 services you mentioned, in regards to better help a few months ago some somewhat concerning information surfaced about the quality of the service. This video sums it up pretty well. I've never heard talkspace being mentioned before, so maybe it's a more reputable site. But like I said at the beginning I haven't used either so I don't want to endorse one site over another but I felt this was worth bringing to your attention in case you haven't seen it before.

Here's hoping you can find the help you need!

<Insert passage from "The Book Of Chrome" here>

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2019-02-12 17:08:04

Were it me, Turtlepower, I would begin by mentioning that you are considering the company's services. I would then explain that you are a screenreader user and mention, in vague nontechnical strokes, what that means (what OS do you use, that sort of thing). Don't bombard them with links and stuff right away, but merely try to ascertain whether or not their site and services are screenreader-friendly. If you get a "dear customer" letter that is clearly a form letter, your own response wasn't lacking; it simply means they've set that up as a default first response and may yet get back to you, so don't be disheartened. If you get a positive response, then you're off to the races. If you get an uncertain response and question, that would be the time to link your responder to appropriate things as they apply to you.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-12 18:40:52

I have also gone and listened to that video. My conclusion: Felix, aka PewDiePie, is an idiot.

1. He claims that BetterHelp doesn't verify its therapists. this is patently untrue according to virtually everything I found. it's possible that it was once true, but it appears now that this platform requires therapists to be fully accredited. There are multiple references to how a person can do their own due diligence upon their assigned counsellor.
2. He claims that BetterHelp labels itself as a clear substitute for face-to-face therapy. Again, wrong. It flatly states that in some cases, there is simply no substitute for in-person meeting, and that the service cannot give diagnoses and whatnot. This is because of the legal complications which can arise, and the way diagnosis is reached in clinical settings. BetterHelp is setting itself up as a stopgap, as something you can use and which might yield huge dividends, but at no time does it ever claim to be a catch-all solution. Read the fine print. I did.
3. Last but not least, he spends a lot of time hammering on youtubers making money, which I find fishy. This is also the guy, you'll remember, who got caught supporting anti-Semitic channels, and was slammed in the public eye for it. I'm not saying that destroys every shred of his credibility - it doesn't - but it's definitely not a mark in his favour. If BetterHelp really is about making a ton of money, then that's obviously not great. But to me, it looks like a tool to connect counsellors and therapists with clients. BetterHelp acts not as the employee of these counsellors or therapists, but as the intermediary link. And this is why, by the way, they get away with charging much less money; these counsellors and therapists are often doing the work in addition to whatever else they're doing. I suspect they are not working full-time and trying to make a living with this platform, since I doubt that would be viable.

So yeah. Felix is kind of an idiot. If nothing else at all, Betterhelp appears to have undergone some changes, so if his video was once true, it appears to be outdated. I dislike scaremongering when someone needs help, and am a huge fan of checking one's facts first, so my gentle advice to all and sundry from here on out is to verify your sources first. This one just got torched.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-12 19:54:11

After watching the video, I tend to agree with Jade's assessment. My knee-jerk reaction is that this guy sounds like a douchebag, but beyond that, the thing that immediately grabbed my attention is that he seems to be saying that vetting a professional yourself is above and beyond the call of duty. No, it isn't, and anyone with half a working brain cell should know that, especially in this day and age when it's very easy to be whatever and whoever you want to be online. Even if I were looking for someone to work with in person, I would absolutely check their credentials, read reviews, etc. I'm not saying that I dismiss everything he's saying out of hand, but I'm definitely skeptical, both because of his cocky, sneering tone, which immediately puts me off no matter who's using it, and also because most people can find something they dislike in any terms of service. About the only thing I agree with him on is that you should exercise a certain amount of caution when handing over a lot of personal data, and that gives me pause. Not necessarily because it could be sold to advertising companies, you kind of have to accept that that's going to happen at some point in your lifetime in the 21st century, but because if those company's servers ever get hacked, we would be looking at an Ashley Madison-style breach. Now, I don't have anything that terrible to hide, but at the same time, I wouldn't want my therapy sessions being circulated on the dark web, either. Then again, any private practice's computers could be hacked as well, and that would be a more targeted attack most likely, so I don't know. I don't think it's something that will sway my decision too much on whether to go through with this, but it is something I hadn't considered.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

2019-02-12 20:05:42

According to BetterHelp's FAQ, they use standard encryption and other methods to thwart hackers, so while it is technically possible to get your info, it wouldn't be all that easy. It'd be about as easy to get your bank records. Also, if there is particularly incriminating info you don't want to remain accessible, stuff you talk to a counsellor or therapist about and are done with, there is apparently a "shred" button next to messages in order to delete them forever. Counsellors apparently have an emergency contact number for you or someone close to you to be utilized only in the event that you are deemed a serious danger to yourself of others (as in, they could be sued for big money if they misuse it in any way, so it's extremely unlikely to happen). Beyond that, however, you do not need to give away any personally identifiable info except your payment info, which BetterHelp has and the counsellor/therapist does not. It truly is an intermediary service.

That said, I can't vouch for its accessibility, so if this is something you wish to investigate, my suggestion stands...reaching out to them, as they're extremely unlikely to turn you away just because you self-identify as a person with a visual impairment.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-12 20:25:15

Just a quick update:
I have reached out to BetterHelp in order to ask the question you posed, and we'll see what they say. This is extremely unlikely to impact anyone else's service; either they're accessible or they aren't. As someone who wants to abolish the stigma around mental health and wants to help as much as I can, I decided it was high time to take this bull by the horns and bloody well ask myself. I did receive a form letter immediately, but this was only to tell me that they would reply within one business day. In that email, I was also told that if this was a crisis situation, I should seek a hotline or call 911 if it was an emergency. Good advice, I think, since there are people out there who would try and use this sort of thing as a substitute for crisis intervention, which it absolutely is not.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-12 20:56:32 (edited by turtlepower17 2019-02-12 21:13:00)

Thank you, Jade. I'll take care of reaching out to Talkspace, and I'll post when and if I get a response.
Edit: I've just contacted them and asked about the accessibility of their service. I got an auto-generated email which stated that they'll respond to my request as soon as possible, but that it may take up to 2 or 3 business days. Sounds fair, and let's hope they respond positively.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

2019-02-13 02:30:56

I have a bit of troubling news regarding BetterHelp. It comes in the form of a reply email I got a short time ago, which I will quote here:

Hi Gregg,

Thanks for contacting us. We can't confirm if our platform will be accessible with a screenreader. However, we have had some reports that some of our users had trouble using their screenreader.

Please don't hesitate to reply to this message if you have further questions.

Warm regards,
Kellie

I am going to follow through on this, asking whether or not the engineering team is working on these issues and whether or not I, as a potential user, would get my money back in the event that the service was unusable. If I have follow-up, I'll post it here for all and sundry.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-14 02:42:43

And here's the next reply I got. This is at least hopeful:

Hi Gregg,

We truly appreciate your questions and feedback here. I have passed this along to my product team for further review and consideration.

If you try the services and find they do not work for you, I would be more than happy to process a refund for you!

Please don't hesitate to reply to this message if you have further questions.

Warm regards,
Kellie

So I, at least, have it in writing that if the services don't work at this time, they'd process a refund. This may be worth giving a try, in the sense that they sound as if they'd be on board with good business practice, and wouldn't screw us over. Of course, words are just words, but it's hard to make a claim and then back out. There's a whole ADA case if that blows up and they decide to play dirty, so I suspect they'd just avoid the media hassle and give us our money back and hope we went away.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-14 16:32:23

For the record, better help changed their practices and policies because of the Youtube videos. also, that's just Felix's style. personally not a fan, but he's apparently doing something right if he's the most subbed guy on the platform even now.

"Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something."
Plato

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2019-02-14 16:46:01

@16 that's good to know. I first heard about this from a news publication which linked to a bunch of YouTube videos detailing the issues, and looking for them now pewdiepie's was unsurprisingly the first result, and I normally don't care for his style either. The takeaway from this situation though is what betterhelp ended up doing to improve it, which shows they care about their users.

<Insert passage from "The Book Of Chrome" here>

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2019-02-14 16:49:44

The reason I flagged it as I did - and still feel I was right to do so - is that you came in here and linked to the video without actually checking into anything first. I was ready to believe, until I went and did my homework on the website itself. And I'm not even the person who originally got this ball rolling and was talking about getting therapy. That's why I mentioned scaremongering. If you're going to warn someone away from something, at least make sure your info is current. In the case of Felix's video, it isn't.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-14 19:06:41

It doesn't bother me, though. I would have done my research after watching the video anyway, simply because you have to take the majority of what's on Youtube with a whole pound of salt in most cases.

As of now, I have not heard back from Talkspace. It's been two days, and they did say it could take up to three to receive a reply, but at this point I'm not terribly hopeful. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until Monday or so. I've been checking my spam folder, just to make sure it didn't go in there, but I haven't seen anything.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

2019-02-14 21:39:28

Oh, I'm sure you would've done your own due diligence and follow-through. I'm not trying to stand in front of you there. I merely don't like it when people state old facts as if they're still current. Bugs me quite a bit. Particularly if vulnerability of any kind is involved.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-15 01:26:12

I just received a response from Talkspace. We'll see where this goes.

Hello,

Thanks for reaching out to Talkspace and for your patience while we work to get back to you. I've escalated your concern to our tech team and hope to get back to you ASAP.

Best, 
Dominique
Talkspace Support

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.

Yesterday 22:49:38

I have a bit of an update, although I'm afraid it's not good news.

Since the response from Talkspace I received last week, I haven't heard anything back from them.

I was also hopeful after finding a lead on a blind psychologist. I contacted this person through their website and expressed my concerns about online therapy apps, asking them if they had any experience with them. I also asked about anything else I should know, since many private therapists do offer video chatting services, in terms of platforms which they might use that are more accessible than others. That way, when contacting said therapists, I would be able to ask which platform they use and get an idea of how successful I might be at using it. Even though I believe private therapists would be way out of my price range, it was an avenue I was at least willing to explore.

Well, the only response to my message, which I believe was worded clearly and concisely, was to ask whether or not I wanted to set up an appointment. I replied that if I needed an appointment to discuss my concerns, that I would do that, but I'm not from the area in which this person practices, so it would have to be over the phone if at all possible. However, the complete lack of acknowledgment to anything I'd said is troublesome, and I'm wary of what, if anything, to expect. I'm definitely feeling discouraged at this point.

The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.