Better telephone access for deaf people

2 09 2010

A news release from TAG hit my inbox today, calling for better access to telephones for deaf people. This saga is really dragging on, but it wasn’t easy obtaining captions either. Dan offers a possible solution. Read on …..

NEWS RELEASE

Government call for improved disabled access for 2012 must include better access to the telephone for deaf people

2 September 2010

Government must take the initiative to modernise telephone relay services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people if its call for companies to improve disabled access in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics is to mean anything to deaf people, says TAG, the deaf electronic communications consortium.

The Government-commissioned report 2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business shows that almost one-third of disabled people have difficulty in accessing goods and services they want to use. Because of poor access to the telephone network, the percentage of deaf and hard-of hearing people unable to access goods and services is very much higher. As a result the economy suffers and deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens are marginalised.

Ruth Myers, Chairman of TAG, said: “This Government report reflects what TAG has been saying for a very long time: deaf and hard-of-hearing people are excluded from many social and commercial opportunities because of the antiquated way that they must communicate with the hearing world via the voice telephone. Email and texting communications only meet some needs – access to voice telephony is crucial for many employment, commercial and social purposes.

“TAG is campaigning for new types of relay services, such as captioned telephony, video relay and IP relay services, all of which are already available to deaf people in some other countries. Everyone accepts that the provision of additional types of relay service is the way forward, but the trigger for action has to be a Government commitment to find the necessary funding mechanisms. The costs are not high in comparison to the economic and social benefits which will accrue.

“We call on the Government to act now to ensure that modernised telephone relay services for deaf people will be up and running in 2011, ready for use by deaf people to make their booking arrangements for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

TAG is a consortium of the main UK deaf organisations concerned with electronic communications and is campaigning for improved electronic communications for deaf, deafened, hard-of-hearing, and deafblind people, and sign language users.

Follow TAG on Twitter @DeafTAG

Telecommunications Action Group

Media Contact

Stephen Fleming at Palam Communications
t 01635 299116 (voice)
e sfleming@palam.co.uk


Dan says this one is a no-brainer to fix - for free.
  • Go to i711.com and sign up. You’ll be prompted to be assigned a relay phone number.
  • You will enter your address (for expanded 911 service); and then choose an open number in the pool from the pop-up. Write this number down.
  • Now, you can make unlimited free outbound relay calls from your web browser.
But Wait, There’s More!
  • Now, minimize the i711.com browser window — We’ll come back to it in a few moments.
  • Next, in a new browser window, go to AIM.com and get a screen name (skip this step if you already have one). Then, either download the free AIM software, or if you already use another IM service (ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, Google Chat, etc…), download the free Trillian IM software, which will funnel all of your IM services into one small app on your desktop.
  • Install & configure your AIM or Trillian software to automatically launch on startup, and also to autoconnect on launch.
  • Go back to the i711.com window and enter your AIM screen name. You can now close that window.
  • Click back on AIM or Trillian and add i711relay to your buddy list. Send an IM with “Hello” in it and you’ll get an autoreply with a couple lines of text.

You now have two additional ways to handle calls:

  1. You can place a call via AIM by sending an IM with the phone number in it.
  2. You can now also receive voice calls on the free number you received when you signed up a few minutes ago.

Now, you can give out that number to hearing friends, family, & businesses as your voice number. When someone dials this number, they will get a relay operator who will send you an IM, and initiate the call.

But Wait, There’s Still More!

Let’s say that the only internet access you have is on a mobile (Blackberry, Treo, or iPhone) via a $35/month data-only plan for the hearing impaired. Simply load the AIM or Trillian software on your mobile, and you can place and receive relay calls, just like on your PC in your home.

Now, let’s say you live in another country and work for an American company: simply enter the US address when you sign up for the i711.com service. You will now have a free phone number in the United States for your hearing business associates (and friends & family) to reach you via relay.

How is this all possible… And for free when one end of the relay call is in America?

Every phone line in the United States is taxed about 50 cents per month to fund relay services for the hearing impaired, allowing free enterprise services (such as i711.com) to thrive in the open market providing services for us. The simple fact is businesses can leverage internet and telephony technology to provide voice relay and turn a profit while doing so.

What a country!


Personally, I would love to see the return of CapTel to the UK. CapTel uses a CapTel phone handset, and WebCapTel uses the internet and any phone including a mobile phone. I was lucky to be able to use both in my job and I found it fantastic – no one realised I was deaf. Unfortunately the company supplying the CapTel service was unable to continue providing it, as it was too expensive to do this without public or government funding. Hence the campaign by TAG to improve telephone relay services in the UK, by either improving Text Relay (formerly Typetalk) or appropriately financing the provision of services such as CapTel and VRS such as SignVideo. You can see SignVideo in action here, provided by Significan’t in London. I found the screen display very clear and could lipread the person.

In the US, you have more than one CapTel provider. You can even get it for Blackberry!

CapTel
Hamilton CapTel
Sprint CapTel
Ultratec

There is also a service called PhoneCaption.





Text relay services: new research project

31 08 2010

PhotobucketOfcom are asking people to have their say by taking part in their new research project about the future of text relay and other services for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or with speech difficulties.

A major research project is about to start on the subject of text relay services. The review will consider how people who are deaf, hard of hearing  or have speech difficulties currently use communications services and what they need to be able to communicate effectively with other people.

The research is being carried out by Opinion Leader, an independent research company on behalf of Ofcom, the independent body that regulates the communications industry.

They are looking for the following people to help  with this research:

  • People who currently use text relay services
  • Non-users of text relay services who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech difficulties
  • People who have used other types of relay services

There are a number of different ways that you can take part in the research. These include:

  • Face-to-face interviews or small group discussions with communications support as required
  • Live, online group discussions
  • Questionnaire completed by text relay
  • Questionnaire completed online
  • Pen and paper questionnaire that you can send back in a prepaid envelope

People taking part in the face to face or online discussions will receive a payment of £35 as the interviews will take up to 1.5 hours . There is limited space, but all applicants will be contacted by return email.  They will do their very best to make sure you can take part in the manner of your preference.

If you are interested in taking part, you can visit the registration page or write to Jessica Irwin-Brown, Opinion Leader Relay Services Research Team, FREEPOST RSAB-RHBG-YKSZ, United Kingdom.

There are full details of the research on the registration web page, but if you need any more information, email  relayservices@opinionleader.co.uk with your name, telephone number and postal address and they will contact you directly.

Information in BSL format

I’m pretty disgusted.

Nothing has changed – for years. See this BBC news article on Captel – dated 2004! It says,

The cost of new technology does mean much of it is unavailable to most deaf people. Teletec are hoping that the telecoms regulator Ofcom will soon recognise the lack of funding and make communication in homes, not just workplaces, easier for the hard of hearing.

I used Captel for 3 years and it was fantastic – 99% of people had no idea I was deaf. Captel is free 24/7/365 in the USA. It’s available in Canada and Sweden. Our government and Ofcom STILL can’t see that deaf people need a modern telephony service. Our MPs say ‘Oh, deaf people have got Text Relay, so what’s the problem?’ (Text Relay was formerly known as Typetalk)

One of the main problems is that using Text Relay means it is very difficult to connect to an automated phone system, therefore it doesn’t work with most modern telephony services. It’s too slow. Phone the bank? I’d need half an hour just to get through! I would also need to get hold of a real person who can speak English – not one of those Indian call centres or an automated switchboard as they can’t cope with a text relay call. Text Relay’s response is;

Direct text solution for contacting organisations

14 Apr 2010

Dealing with a call centre via a text relay can sometimes be a frustrating experience.  Recognising this a number of companies are now providing a direct text alternative.

At Text Relay we’ve compiled a list of organisations and their textphone numbers to help people who use text.  You can download the list from our downloads page.

This isn’t good enough. This only works for a deaf person like me when I have access to a textphone. I don’t use a textphone, I use a telephone (Geemarc Screenphone) because I can speak and I don’t have all day to type out my replies. Plus, a lot of organisations just let their minicoms ring and ring.

I want the same independence as a hearing person to make a phone call! It seems, the only way to do this is to get a cochlear implant and learn how to hear. This is not an option that’s available or desirable to all deaf or hard of hearing people.

The Telecommunications Action Group have been running a campaign to get an improved text relay service in the UK. The BBC reported on the campaign when TAG called on the government for funding in 2008. I took part in a research project for Plum Consulting and Ofcom in June 2009.

So why have Ofcom commissioned yet ANOTHER research project on text relay services??? Why can’t they see that we NEED a proper phone service that meets everyone’s needs?? What’s so difficult about that? Other countries can do it. Why can’t we?

Do we need to take away hearing people’s access to phones for them to sit up and listen, understand, and do something about it??

Click on the link for information on the TAG telecoms campaign and how YOU can help. It’s up to us to make the difference!

Funnyoldlife’s tracking of TAG’s telephone campaign.





Hearing people and text phones

15 06 2010

Dear Auntie Tina

I’m writing a training course for hearing people who will be taking calls at a charitable organisation. Some of these calls may be from people using a text phone. To prepare people for what this might be like, I’m looking for a video of what this experience might be like for the hearing person answering the phone, or for someone who would be willing to audio-record a short conversation with me (I’m hearing) so I can use it as a demo in the training. I haven’t found anything on YouTube and the resources so kindly forwarded by RNID show how a textphone works from the device-user perspective. Thanks very much in advance if anyone would like to help!

Kristen

Hi Kristen

There is information for hearing businesses on how to receive a textphone call at Text Relay. All textphone-to-phone calls are automatically routed through Text Relay. Don’t forget that some deaf people prefer to use voice carry over (VCO) . Further information can be found at Text Relay for businesses.

Keep an eye out for Captel as this service closed 2 years ago in the UK, but deaf people we hope it will return soon. It works much faster than Text Relay. This works a little differently from Text Relay – the operator cannot take part in the conversation and the only giveaway is a 3 second delay in connecting the caller to the speaker. The Telecommunications Action Group (TAG) may be able to help you with a video.

Don’t forget about video relay calls from deaf people. You may be able to get  a video of this from Significan’t in Blackheath, London, who run such a service.

Tina





Telecoms and Convergent Media Event

25 09 2009

The next in UCL Advances series of Technology Innovation Forum events will cover telecoms and convergent media and will take place on 12 November 2009 in central London.

How will new telecommunications technologies develop? Where will the social, economic and legal barriers between digital and real-world lives break-down? Where will the innovations in new media take us?

This half-day conference will cover:
• New telecoms and media technologies
• The need for collaboration between traditional telecom suppliers and media service providers
• The technical, legal and social problems faced and the disruptive forces to convergence

Although the technology is in place, deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK are being denied access to a modern telephone relay service. Christopher Jones is the director of AccEquE Ltd, a company that offers consultancy services in telecommunications for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. He will be speaking at this event about captioned telephony and video relay telephony for deaf and hard of hearing people. Come and show him some support, see him demonstrate captioned and video telephony for deaf people, try it out for yourself, and take this opportunity to ask him questions. The campaign to have a modern telephony service for deaf people in the UK is ongoing and Christopher is one of the leaders in this campaign.

Volunteers are needed to man the captioned telephony stand. Please contact Christopher on cfgjones at bt internet dot com if you can help.

Further details after the jump.

A palantypist (speech to text reporter) and Christopher’s sign language interpreter will be available at the event.





They got it right first time

4 03 2009

Photobucket

Access isn’t just about having the specialist equipment. It’s also about attitudes. I believe the two go together hand in hand to make a service fully accessible.

I had forgotten my online banking password. Today I phoned my bank via Typetalk and on my first call I got through and they took my call, went through the identification process, dealt with my query, absolutely no problem. Later that day, I logged into my bank account online and got it wrong again, so had to phone the bank to reset my password again. This time, the Typetalk operator kept telling me she couldn’t hear what I was saying as the bank’s computer system kept telling her the available options in her ear. I kept repeating, getting louder each time, which option I wanted and she kept saying she couldn’t hear me. In the end, the Typetalk operator said the bank had hung up on me as I was taking too long to choose an option. Then she explained to me, as if I hadn’t quite understood in the first place, that the bank had been giving the options in her ear and that she couldn’t hear what I was saying as she was listening to them. I said, so what am I supposed to do? Her reply? “I don’t know”.

AARRRGGGHHHHH

After a few deep breaths, I picked up the phone and tried again. Typetalk luckily (!) put me through this time. However, now it was the bank that had the problem. They said they couldn’t take a call through Typetalk and would send the relevant documents through the post. What?! I explained that Typetalk operators are bound by the Official Secrets Act and this is a confidential call. I explained, in my Don’t Mess With Me Voice, that I wanted equal access and my choice was to have my query dealt with in the same way as hearing people, i.e. I wanted to deal with this over the phone. In the end she relented and we got it sorted, but not after the d*mn Typetalk operator told me she had explained to the bank what was happening, i.e. she had taken over ‘my’ private conversation and had her own on the side with my bank! I thought Typetalk was meant to be simply a relay service, not one where the operator was butting in all the time. Then to cap it all, the bank said I could call them back on their minicom number. I said, due to the problems with Typetalk, there was no way I was going to chance calling them on a minicom number as I know from experience that it hardly ever gets answered, and when it does, they panic and say no-one knows how to use it therefore they can’t take the call. All that in addition to the Typetalk operator butting in. No thanks.

I’m very lucky that I don’t really need to use a phone at work, we have an email culture so it works very well for me. I see things haven’t changed much in the last few years. Captioned telephony can’t come back to the UK soon enough.





Telephony campaign update

13 11 2008

Cathy Heffernan at The Guardian has written an article about the TAG campaign, following See Hear’s report yesterday. You can catch See Hear’s report for another 6 days here (UK only).





Telephony campaign : parliamentary reception

16 10 2008

TAG held a parliamentary reception last night in Westminster to highlight the need for modern telephony services for deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK, with the aim of raising this vital issue in the House of Commons.

Malcolm Bruce MP who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness and who hosted the reception, said, “Four decades after telephones became commonplace in British households, many deaf people still struggle to use the telephone network and some cannot use it at all. Deaf people are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain social, educational and professional equality with the rest of society. Modernised phone relay systems can dramatically improve their telecommunications, but the powers that be are dragging their feet in ensuring that they are available and affordable. This is an increasing and unintended form of discrimination that must be rectified. The sorts of services that are required are already available at no extra cost to individuals in countries such as Sweden, the USA and Australia.”

The new services were displayed at the reception and everyone was able to try them out.

Text Relay

Text relay has been around in the UK since the 1980s but has not been developed due to funding issues, it still uses analogue phone lines and is too slow. (I can’t tell you how many times hearing people have hung up on me – I now ask hearing colleagues to make my phone calls for me). RNID’s new TalkByText service works a bit like msn to msn, on Windows and over the broadband networks. This service means a deaf person can use their computer to call a hearing person’s phone, and their reply will be displayed on the computer as text. This service is aimed at companies who want to comply with the DDA and handle textphone calls over the broadband networks. Calls can also be made pc to pc. The deaf person will see real-time, character by character text. A TalkByText program is installed on each computer being used for text conversation. The service is routed through BT TextDirect / Typetalk. This service is also ideal for home users who don’t wish to have a phone at home. For about £30/month they can have this service on their pc at home. I tried this one out and thought it was ideal for those who don’t speak on the phone. For more information, see RNID TalkByText.

Video Relay

Video relay allows sign language users to use an online interpreter to communicate using a webcam or videophone. In the UK, two services operate – Sign Video by Significan’t, and a small Scottish service. The handset looked like a really funky piece of equipment.

The larger photo is of the interpreter. He listens to the hearing person on the other end of the phone through his headphones, and signs their reply back to the deaf person. The deaf person is shown on the small in-screen photo. The sizes of both images can be moved around and resized. Have you spotted the glass bits on the top? Those are lights, which flash when the phone rings. Cool!

Captioned Telephony

This uses two communication channels and speech recognition software so it’s very fast. The hearing person’s speech can be read on the deaf person’s computer/PDA/telephone screen and the deaf person simply speaks back directly to the hearing person. The captioned telephony service closed in the UK in December 2007 due to lack of funding. For more information, email acceque @ btinternet .com

I had captioned telephony for a year and fooled SO many hearing people into thinking I was a hearing person, as they couldn’t tell they were talking to a deaf person. Yay. I decided to call Vic and give him a surprise. He was completely bowled over that I could call him and talk to him on the phone … yep, total surprise there!

TAG’s demands

TAG wants the Government and Ofcom to commit to delivering promptly on the following before the end of 2008:
- Interoperable, affordable real-time text communication on mobile and IP networks
- Interoperable, open-standards based captioned relay services at no extra cost
- A UK national open standards video relay service for fixed, mobile and Internet users
- Open-standards based IP access to text relay services
- Suitable text and video tariffs on all mobile networks.

Please help to support TAG’s campaign for equal telephony access for deaf people. It really does need to be dragged into the 21st century. There are over 9 million people in the UK who could benefit from this technology.

Just think. You might become a little hard of hearing one day and want to be able to continue using the phone. You might be a BSL user and be sick of using minicoms which people don’t know how to use, or sick of asking hearing people to make phone calls for you. You might be deaf with speech and miss having access to an efficient, modern, professional telephone service – JUST LIKE HEARING PEOPLE.

WHERE’S THE EQUALITY?

How can you help the campaign?

# You can join the campaign group on FACEBOOK called “Campaign : deaf people want greater access to modern phone technology.
# Contact TAG (tagenquiries @ hotmail.c om)
# LOBBY YOUR LOCAL MP. You can find your local MP at Write to Them. Explain how a 24 hour captioned or video relay phone service at NO extra cost would help you.
# TELL YOUR FRIENDS and ask them to write to their MP.
# PUBLICISE THIS CAMPAIGN and tell everyone about it.
# ASK FOR A DEMONSTRATION – contact TAG. Once people have seen it, they will want it!

Media Contact:
Stephen Fleming at Palam Communications
t: 01635 299116
e: sfleming @ palam.c o.uk





Telephony campaign progresses

15 10 2008

TAG is holding a reception for MPs tonight at the House of Commons to showcase the newest telephone technology available for deaf people. See the BBC News item for further details. I’ll be reporting back!





Deaf people calling for better telephone access

3 04 2008

Today, the BBC filmed the Video Relay Service (for BSL deaf) and the WebCapTel Captioned Relay Service (for deaf with speech) in action. This will go on BBC Online News, hopefully today. An article has been written about it, you can see the link HERE on BBC News Online. This is in aid of TAG‘s campaign for alternative relay services 24 hours 7 days week and 365 year at no cost to the user other than a standard telephone call cost.

COME ON, GIVE US SOME EQUALITY!

“Deaf telecoms not yet in the 21st Century”, says TAG

The Government was accused today of letting down deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens by failing to enable them to have access to modernised, fairly-priced telecom services suited to their needs. While an everyday part of hearing people’s lives since the 1960s, poor access to the telephone severely affects the lives and life chances of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

New-style services which enable deaf people to use the phone have been available for several years and are used widely in countries like America and Australia. These services have appeared in the UK, but only two remain as the others have been forced to close through a lack of funding. TAG, which represents all the UK’s main deaf and hard-of-hearing organisations concerned with electronic communications, is today encouraging deaf people to take a on-off opportunity to use two telephone services adapted to their needs to lobby their MPs and call for policies that will bring deaf telecoms in Britain into the 21st Century.

Today’s event marks the start of TAG’s campaign ‘Bringing Deaf Telecoms into the 21st Century’. Ruth Myers, chair of TAG, said: “Four decades after telephones became commonplace in British households, many deaf and hard-of-hearing people still struggle to use the telephone network and some cannot use it at all. They are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain equality with the rest of society, educationally and professionally. “New types of phone relay systems using technologies like video communications and the Internet can dramatically improve telecommunications for deaf people, but the powers-that-be are dragging their feet in enabling their use by deaf and hard-of-hearing people at an affordable price. This is discrimination and an infringement of our human rights. Such services are already available at no extra cost in countries such as Sweden, the USA and Australia.”

To start the lobby of MPs, sign language users are expected to inundate one of the two remaining UK-based video relay services. A few other deaf people have been given a one-off chance to use a captioned relay service in the USA to contact their MPs – last December, the captioned relay service that operated in the UK closed. Sign language users will communicate with their MPs on a phone via an interpreter and a system called video relay, while others will use captioned relay to talk to their MP using their own voice and reading the MP’s reply in text on-screen almost as soon as he or she speaks.

Ruth Myers added: “All deaf and hard-of-hearing people are asking for is to be able to use technology that already exists at a fair price. We want to keep pace with technology. We want equality in education, training, the workplace and as consumers and citizens in the information society.”

TAG is a consortium made up of the British Deaf Association, LINK, National Association of Deafened People, Deafax, National Deaf Children’s Society, Deaf Broadcasting Council, Royal Association in Aid of Deaf People, Deafness Support Network, Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), deafPLUS, Scottish Council on Deafness, Hearing Concern and Sense.

~~~ Deaf telephone services that can change lives ~~~

Captioned telephony
Captioned telephony was available in the UK from 2002-2007 on a very limited basis. With two communication channels, speech recognition software to convert the relay operator’s voice into text, deaf people can read the conversations on their PCs or telephone displays with minimal delay. Captel, the only captioned relay service in the UK, was closed in December 2007 for funding reasons.

Video Relay
Video relay enables sign language users to communicate on the telephone through a sign language interpreter. The sign language user and interpreter interact via PCs and webcams or videophones. Two services currently operate in the UK: Significan’t’s SignVideo service and a fledgling service in Scotland. Last year, video relay services run by RNID and the BDA closed.

Text Relay
Text relay has existed in the UK since the 1980s and as a national service, RNID Typetalk, since 1991, but funding issues have inhibited its development. Text relay enables deaf people with keyboards and screens to communicate via an operator who speaks or types parts of conversations as required. In its current format, the relay process can be quite slow and can inhibit conversations. Nonetheless it is a hugely valuable service. TAG wants to see developments in text relay which, for example, speed up the communication and allows access via the Internet.

PLEASE LOBBY YOUR LOCAL M.P. AND PERSUADE HIM/HER TO TAKE ACTION!

You can find your MP at ‘Write to them’ - simply type in your postcode. Please write to them and explain how/why you would find a 24 hour and free Captioned Relay service beneficial to you. It’s very easy to sit there and let someone else do it. If you want to participate fully in the hearing world, this is your chance to change things for the better and bring telecomms access for deaf people into the 21st Century.





Online captioned telephone calls

2 04 2008

Attempting to use telephony for business purposes is very frustrating. I’ve used Typetalk for a number of years and wasn’t happy with the service, it was good but not quite appropriate in the fast moving corporate world. Don’t get me wrong, Typetalk is fantastic and the operators are usually helpful. What I don’t like about Typetalk is -

Hang-ups. People would hang up on me repeatedly because they thought the Typetalk operator was trying to sell them double glazing, and I was forced to ask a hearing person to either make the call for me or to exlpain that a deaf person was trying to call them through something called Typetalk and they were not to hang up during the connection process.

Unnaturalness. Hearing people don’t like the delays created by a Typetalk conversation, it also feels like using a CB radio as it’s quite stilted – I say my bit then ‘Go Ahead’, then the respondent says their bit then ‘Go Ahead’ – the conversation loses all spontaniety.

Obvious third party presence. Some operators are men, which can be embarrassing if you are saying ‘I love you’ to your husband and the operator repeats this in a male voice to your husband…. I’ve had operators cut me off in a call, telling my friend on the other end ‘she’s not deaf’ when I’ve had the good fortune of a very clear line and an Irish accent which is dead easy for me to understand!

Acceptance. Hearing people largely don’t really understand how Typetalk works, and combined with the unnaturalness of the conversation and the third party presence, some are not keen to use it. Doesn’t help professional relations.

Handset. I needed a textphone, the cheapest start at £300. My main gripe with this is that I am tied to that particular phone, I can’t just walk into a colleague’s office and pick up their phone, like a hearing person could.

Prefix. If I want to call someone, I have to remember to dial 18001 before their number, and let’s not forget where to dial the 9 to get out of your office systems. If someone wants to call me, they have to REMEMBER to dial 18002 then my number. Of course, most people don’t remember, the call comes through and it’s direct – no captions. And I’m struggling to cope with this caller I can’t hear and the phone keeps ringing. Ugh.

What I really DID like about Typetalk was-

Cost. It’s cheap, Typetalk users get a 60% rebate on phone calls made.

Access It’s available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Typetalk means I can make calls for myself, from work AND from home. I can phone for pizza, call a cab, have a chat with a friend.

Last year I used CapTel which was eminently suitable for my professional needs. The CapTel operator CANNOT intervene at any point as the system works quite differently.

Let’s say I call Maria. Maria’s speech is repeated by the CapTel operator into their computer and the computer transcribes this speech onto my phone screen. I read Maria’s speech off the screen and speak back to her.

SHE HAS NO IDEA I’M DEAF.

This happens with a delay of 3 seconds which is unnoticed by most people. When it is noticed by those too impatient to wait a few seconds, I say ‘Oh, I don’t hear well, my phone uses voice recognition technology so there is a slight delay while I read what you’ve said.’ This delay arises from the time it takes for the speech to be transcribed and for me to read it. Hearing people find this a perfectly acceptable explanation (if simplified!) and are even enthusiastic about it and very interested, and the conversation often turns into an explanation of how the system works! I’ve never ever had a hearing person be enthusiastic about Typetalk. I don’t even need to use a prefixed number, it’s a direct dial for me to call someone, no faffing about with 18001 then 9 then 020 9834 … or is it 9 then 18001 then 020 9834…. see, even I have problems sometimes!

CapTel then developed last year into the next level of technology, WebCapTel. This was essentially the same system, but it worked over the internet. This meant I could log into my CapTel account online (no expensive handset needed! – it’s like logging into your Amazon account) and a screen would pop up, like the one you get in MSN Messenger. The WebCapTel service would ring my phone (NORMAL PHONE HANDSET!) and the respondent’s phone simultaneously, I would pick up my phone when it rings (that means I’m connected to WebCapTel), and our conversation would start straightaway. I speak and the respondent’s conversation appears on my computer screen like magic. I can go to any ordinary phone or even use a compatible mobile, log in on an available computer, and talk. Complete freedom to roam! I can also used Captioned Relay for international conference calls, using a conference microphone.

The only thing I didn’t like about CapTel or WebCapTel was that it cost £1 a minute for the captioning element of the calls – both incoming and outgoing.

The WebCapTel service in the UK was pulled at the end of 2007 due to lack of funding.

I have been without a telephone since November 2007. I got a ScreenPhone from the RNID but this uses Typetalk, and due to the nature of my building’s phone systems, I can’t accept calls from my colleagues within the building – I can only accept external calls. How annoying. It’s tiresome having to explain to people how Typetalk works, dealing with the delays, stilted conversations, trying to get connected, argh argh argh! Hearing people don’t know how lucky they are, they can just pick up a handset and go.

In the USA, my choices would be quite different. Two relay service providers, Sprint and Hamilton have started WebCapTel Relay Service 24 hours 7 day and 365 days a year service at no cost to the hard of hearing, deafened and deaf with speech users other than the cost of a standard call, as from 1st March 2008. BUT ONLY IN THE USA! Both Sprint and Hamilton have been running CapTel relay services for a while, offering the service in Spanish and English. There is even a Sprint Relay blog. No-one is allowed to use it outside the USA. TCC has ruled this because the USA does not want the cost of the relay services to be given over to users outside the USA. The same thing applies to their IP Text Relay Services.

Why don’t we have this service available in the UK? Not only do the US have these fantastic services to enable professional equality on a par with hearing colleagues, the Federal Commission on Communications (FCC) approved for WebCapTel to be reimburseable and with no limit – this was released last December.

I’d love to see a free and modern captioned telephony service widely available in the UK, to allow deaf people to use the phone on a par with their hearing peers. That’s not asking for much is it, when we can put people on the moon? But hey, we could always move to the USA.