Look after the customers and the business will look after itself

13 04 2011

I used a text relay service called Text Direct (Typetalk) to try to call Virgin last week. As often happened, the text relay operator would dial the number, and reach a call centre. Now, as the options are read out, there is not enough time for the text relay operator to listen to the options and type them, for me to read them and tell the operator which choice I want, in time for him/her to choose the correct option so that I can be put through. The operator told me she was unable to hear me over the options being read out. What was I supposed to do?!

I asked to speak to a supervisor at Text Direct and they explained the system could not cope with automated calls. What I was asked to do was to tell the relay operator, prior to making a call, which service I wanted from the person I was calling. So, phone in hand, I took a deep breath and tried again. I explained to the operator and she stopped the call going through, and asked me to give her all the details (such as my account number etc), then she dialled again. This time, I got through to Virgin, and their operator promptly hung up. All service providers are required to provide access via a text relay service to deaf people. Their website says ~

Type Talk

Virgin Money welcome calls through the Type Talk service provided by BT. Call 18001 followed by the number you require, you’ll then be connected to an operator offering text phone assistance.

Obviously, the text relay operator had started explaining what Text Relay does, and Virgin’s operator couldn’t be bothered to listen. See … that’s the other side of hearing impairment … the social model of disability, where hearing people won’t listen and understand …. hence access barriers still exist! By this time, I was seething. I called Text Direct again, who put me through to Virgin (after giving Text Direct all my details again), and this time I got through. Hallelujah.  Even better, this rep was fine with accepting a text relay call.

At the end of my call, I explained what had happened with my last attempt to call Virgin. I asked for a  manager to call me back, thinking they wouldn’t bother. This one call took me 30 minutes to make – it would have taken a hearing person 5 minutes to make the same call. It’s so aggravating, isn’t it. I’ve got a busy day at work as well, just like everyone else.

The upshot of all this was that Virgin called me back when they said they would, they apologised profusely, listened to all I had to say (which was a lot!), were extremely polite, took the incident seriously, and said their first rep would be dealt with. I made recommendations on more ways they could be accessible to deaf people (MSN, Skype etc) and they explained their online access facility, which I didn’t know about. They said they were extremely grateful for the feedback and offered me £30 for the hassle.

I’m soooo impressed. What blisteringly good customer service!

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

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.

I choose C). Phone A Friend.

8 08 2010


I decided to try using the phone with my new hearing last Friday. I asked my colleague Patrice to read part of one of our careers handouts and I would just listen. I know Patrice’s voice well and felt comfortable with calling her. I told her to expect to have to repeat herself a lot. The handout read;

During a PhD in Pharmacology, Jill collaborated with Pfizer studying the effect of newly synthesised peptides on the growth of cancer cells. During this collaboration, Jill expressed an interest in technical sales to one of the Pfizer project managers. He put Jill in touch with the commercial division. Through this contact she obtained some temporary work on a particular sales project at the end of her research contract. When, eventually, the project became successful Jill was offered a permanent job.

I dialled and there was silence. I listened hard. There was still silence. I hung up and then I realised what I had done. I had dialled Text Relay, the UK’s national text relay service, and my Geemarc phone automatically switched over to VCO (voice carry over) which meant the voice part of the call was cut off as the text appeared. I had dialled in the usual way as I would for a person unable to hear. I felt so stupid! I picked up the phone and dialled Patrice again, this time, dialling her direct. (I felt so FREE! FREE of text relay! FREE of slow cumbersome telephone text calls! FREE of a long wait to connect to someone at the other end. It. Was. Fabulous.) Patrice picked up and I could hear this robotic female voice. Not Patrice’s. Oh …. this was so confusing!

I popped my head round her door and she said it is some sort of answering machine. So I tried calling her again. This time, the strange voice kept talking…. and talking …. and talking. I couldn’t understand a word.  Then I caught ‘Through this contract she obtained some temporary work ….’ and I realised Patrice had taken over where the answer machine had left off, and I was able to read the rest of the excerpt. I was unable to understand the words but I knew what she was saying when I read the handout. When Patrice turned around so I could see her face through her office window, and lipread as well as hear her, I understood every word she said.

I was using Advanced Bionic’s T-mic (at 100%) which is a microphone situated at the entrance to the ear canal, the voice was loud and clear. It was just tinny, different from real-life, more robotic. This patented microphone means I can position a phone receiver in the same way a hearing person can. No need for trying to listen through a microphone at the top of my ear and angling the phone’s handset into all sorts of strange positions so I can catch a clue. I discovered that I could hear a telephone voice better when I changed to another program on my cochlear implant, which has a higher IDR (input dynamic range) of 70 and no ClearVoice added.

I hung up and Patrice said she thought that piece of prose was rather hard. Pfizer? Pharmacology? Synthesised? Peptides? Yes…. I think I made it a bit tricky for myself there! So I suggested we pick one object and talk about it. Patrice picked up a raffle ticket from Hearing Dogs and went back to her office. I picked up the phone when it rang and she asked me questions about this ticket. What is the first prize? What make of car? What is the second prize?  What is the third prize? How much is the ticket? When is the closing date? The dog likes the beach doesn’t he. The dog has got something, what is it. (Huh?) I felt silly asking Patrice to repeat herself so much, but I managed to get about half right. I was thrilled. I was very suprised to realise we had been talking for 15 minutes. When she came back to my office, we compared raffle tickets and found I had an old one. Different picture, different dog, different closing date. Bah!

I then collared another colleague  Zara. I asked her to phone me and tell me the objects that were on her desk. Short simple sentences! I repeated the objects after her …. stapler, money, phone, pen ….. and got about half right. It was hard, as they were just single words and Zara’s accent isn’t English, but I did much better than I expected.

Woo woo!

Now, I’m determined to get at least one colleague to talk to me on the phone every day at closing time.

– Don’t call me – I’ll call YOU!

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!


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.


WebCapTel hits Australia

2 01 2010

…. and I’m mighty jealous! But I’m mighty happy for them too! I had WebCapTel for a couple of years until they ran out of funding in the UK and it was FABULOUS. It works in a different way from Text Relay (formerly known as Typetalk). With WebCapTel, the speaker’s voice is relayed to a computer (with operator overseeing) and the computer converts it into text displayed on the deaf person’s internet or mobile phone screen, the deaf person speaks back as normal. The beauty of this system is that you can use it with any landline or mobile phone and the text is relayed very fast, so it fits into the hearing world’s phone systems very well. I was using the WebCapTel phone system every day at work, in finance, so was relaying lots of numbers, and no one even realised I was deaf ….. it is THAT good. The operator cannot butt into your call like the Text Relay operator does, because the system doesn’t allow them to do it. It’s YOUR call. Fecking brilliant!

If you’re in Australia, you can sign up to the 2 year captioned telephony trial being run by the Australian Communication Exchange – enjoy it! Spread the word and tell us how you find it!

In the UK, we are still fighting for WebCapTel. Help the campaign by writing to your MP, or better still, make arrangements to phone them – the first time via Text Relay, and the second time via WebCapTel – so they can compare the services. Better still, get your MP to try phoning their bank or another automated phone number service via Text Relay – hehehe.  If you’d like to see a demonstration of WebCapTel,  email Telecommunications Action Group at tagenquiries @ hotmail.com

Facebook TAG campaign page

TAG campaign updates

Trying out WebCaptel, just log in (online on the WebCapTel site) the phone numbers you are calling from and calling to, and once the numbers are connected, your handset rings and you pick it up. The hearing person’s voice is relayed to your computer or phone screen within 3 seconds of being spoken.

Ofcom report into telecommunications for deaf people

1 07 2009

Ofcom have now published their long-awaited report on telecommunications for deaf people, the current provision in the UK and their recommendations. Another, more detailed, report is to follow.

I took part in this study and hope we do get captioned relay and video relay phone systems back into the UK. I’ve only made about 3 phone calls this year, and have relied instead on email, SMS, MSN Messenger, and asking hearing people to make calls for me. That’s how frustrating and difficult it can be for a deaf person to make a phone call in this modern day and age. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Ofcom report : Foreword

Voice telephony services for deaf people

Plain English summary

Exciting news … for the USA

6 11 2008

Some exciting news for our USA counterparts that is going to make our UK friends and colleagues cringe!

Three weeks ago, Sprint, one of the two US CapTel Relay Providers announced WebCapTel on the Go. Meaning it works with Windows Mobile 6 handsets! Yes, Mobile WebCapTel. Its free as usual! You need two mobilephones, one of which is a smartphone with Internet.


Mobile WebCapTel

News snippet

Last week, Hamilton, the second of the two US CapTel Relay Providers announced their WebCapTel on the Go using Apple IPhone! VERY nice for them! (I’m going green here!)



Join the UK campaign to get this modern phone technology for deaf people adopted in the UK. We want it too!

Campaign updates are posted on Funny Old Life’s blog
Campaign updates are also posted on the Facebook group Campaign : deaf people want greater access to modern phone technology
Contact us if you think you can help us with the campaign!

Watch out for See Hear’s programme on Wednesday 12 November, when the TAG campaign will be screened, so you can see this for yourself! Episode 18 of the programme investigates what the Government could do to improve access to telecommunications for the deaf. Link is HERE.

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.


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