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Online captioned telephone calls

Posted Oct 30 2008 3:31pm

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.

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