White elephants

17 02 2011

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Today I had an interesting conversation with someone who is as passionate and annoyed as I am about discrimination against hearing impaired people and limited access to employment.

This is an issue close to my heart. Years ago, I was fresh out of university and looking for a job. I didn’t know about Access to Work as no one had thought to tell me, not even the university disability officer. I had no textphone – I didn’t know about those either. When you’re deaf, access to information is much tougher – a deaf person needs to be signposted to it rather than be expected to hear it from someone else. I clearly remember the frustration of applying for jobs and not getting anywhere.

After a few weeks of this, I had a brainwave. I applied for six jobs and straightforwardly stated I am deaf and unable to use the phone. I applied for another six jobs and omitted any reference to deafness in those applications – I even included my home phone number.

The first batch of applications resulted in a deafening silence. As I had come to expect 😦 The second batch, to my complete astonishment, had every single employer calling my home, extremely keen to interview me. The problem was, this meant my mother had to pick up the phone and take a message, and explain they had to email me as I couldn’t hear on the phone. Result? They all dropped me like hot cakes. Yeah …. that’s a great one for confidence building, isn’t it.

It pays to be very careful what you tell employers and how you say it – you need to offer solutions to your deafness as well as your skillset. For far too many hearing people, hearing loss is simply something they don’t know how to deal with. It’s best left until the interview stage where they can meet you in person and you can explain the situation, and help swing the interview your way with your brilliance.

But hey, we have Access to Work. Unfortunately, ATW keep restricting and cutting access, which seems to me to be an oxymoronic state of affairs. “No You Cannot Have 40 Hours a Week of Communication Support – It’s Far Too Expensive” – even though I work 40 hours a week. Where is *my* access to communication? How would an ATW adviser like to be told “Your Phone is Too Expensive, You Can Only Have it for 4 Hours a Week, and You Have to Re-Apply for it Every Two Years”?!

Arrggghhh.

Some employers don’t really understand that people with less than fully functioning ears are just as able as people with fully functioning ears – just a few adjustments are needed. Yes, this *still* happens in the UK today! The biggest barriers seem to be attitudes and cost. The biggest solution seems to be raising awareness and enabling a decent, varied, and flexible provision of communication support.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect other people to understand hearing loss and all the attendant issues, problems, and solutions ….. but I *do* expect people to be open minded enough to listen and take information on board. If they provide a service to the general public, then they have a responsibility to be reasonably accessible to the public and to find out about accessibility – and implement it. I have seen too many examples where this has not happened. You can’t just say “It’s not my problem”. A responsibility is a huge, huge thing. But sometimes it is the white elephant in the room. When you’re at a disadvantage in society, this white elephant is really, really, really, big.

So how about this one …. the government, in all its wisdom, laid down regulations on 10 February for a new work capability assessment for employment and support allowance (ESA). This will become effective on 28 March 2011. This means deaf people who can read and write will not be eligible for ESA and will have to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). Just because a deaf person can read and write, doesn’t mean the barriers to employment have disappeared. I suspect, as blind people who can get around safely with their guide dogs are no longer eligible for ESA, deaf people with hearing dogs will no longer be eligible either. It’s not logical to simply make cuts in support and then not provide a replacement for that support. In any case, the current support is inadequate – it’s not the right kind of support. There should be mentors, role models, information hubs etc. Not just a bit of money thrown at you and a DEA (government Disability Employment Adviser) who just doesn’t ‘get it’. That’s before you  even secure an interview in the first place. It’s all kind of a mess, isn’t it?

Whoops.  Can someone poke our lovely new government and make them think again?

Or better still – put some deaf and disabled people into senior positions so that they can use their knowledge and experience for the benefit of the rest of us.

More information on the new ESA is at Benefits and Work





TAG takes deaf telephone relay services campaign online

20 10 2010

TAG wants to hear from you!

The campaign to enable deaf and hard-of-hearing people to access the telephone as easily and at the same price as hearing people has gone online to reach a wider audience.

Anyone can find out more about the campaign on the new TAG website, on Facebook and on Twitter @DeafTAG. There is information about the newer types of relay services that ought by now to be widely available in the UK, case studies of the telecoms needs of deaf people, hints on how to contact and lobby MPs, latest campaign developments and much more.

Ruth Myers, Chairman of TAG, said: “We are taking the campaign to bring deaf telecoms into the 21st century online so that more deaf and hearing people will understand the issues and start lobbying their MPs for the changes that we so badly need. We are providing lots of campaign information online and giving people the chance to air their views and needs.

“We want to hear from deaf individuals who are frustrated through not having access to modernised relay services because of availability and/or cost. And we also want to hear from hearing people who also want to benefit from being able to contact deaf family, friends, colleagues and customers via the new types of relay that need to be made available in the UK.

“From being one of the leaders in deaf telecoms, the UK is now lagging behind many other countries where services like video relay and captioned relay are readily available at no extra cost to users. The UK urgently needs to catch up and give deaf and hard of hearing people a fair deal.

“TAG is very grateful to Geemarc for sponsoring the website. Any other organisation or individual who can contribute to the Campaign is very welcome to contact us!”

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 TAGFacebook and Twitter @DeafTAG.

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





Specsavers honours Roger Hewitt

28 09 2010

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The lovely Roger Hewitt was the winner of Specsavers’ Sound Barrier Star Awards. Well deserved, I say!

The Sound Barrier Star Awards is a joint initiative between Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and Specsavers Hearing Centres to find heroes who are deaf or have a profound hearing loss. The awards celebrate those who have achieved great things and proved to be a great inspiration to others.

Roger has been deaf since he was six. He’s done so much good work for deaf people. He now volunteers for the charity Deaf Access and works for the UK Council on Deafness. He is also a trustee and advocate with Action for Deafness and a consultant with SignHealth and St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton. Busy man!

I’ve known Roger for years and years. I first met him at Deafax, where we were working to help empower deaf people to get back into work. He always teases me when he sees me, telling me he’s really David, not Roger. (David is his twin brother) Wicked!





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.