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March 19, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: Relay service rings the changes

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,Nothern Ireland,UK - Mar 19, 2004

By Bob McCullough
19 March 2004

TYPETALK, the telephone relay service run by BT in conjunction with the RNID, is targeted at deaf, hard of hearing and speech- impaired people, giving them the opportunity to use the telephone system to contact hearing folk by simply adding 18001 before the number required.

Our hearing friends can contact us the same way by prefacing our number with 18002 and my sisters are glad to be able to phone me this way.

The new system replaces the old question- and-answer preamble and, with the help of the 500 operators at Typetalk's headquarters in Liverpool, we can now speak to anyone in the world 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, just as easily as ordinary phone users.

My wife used it last Saturday to book a table for lunch at a local restaurant and contact was made quickly. However, as still sometimes happens, the girl taking the call was thrown by the new experience of speaking to one person through another and had to get help.

The problem is compounded by the difficulty some Belfast people have with the Liverpool accent and I suppose the operators there have the same problem with ours.

Typetalk Update magazine says there are 450,000 people in the UK who would otherwise be unable to use the conventional telephone and, at the moment, only a small percentage of them use Typetalk on a regular basis.

Recently the Royal College of Surgeons in London requested a visit from the Typetalk Outreach Team to help bring it into line with the Disability Discrimination Act, which I wrote about last week.

The college was told it needed to offer a service for people with communication problems and, after considering Minicoms or textphones, did not feel this would be the right solution as it has 250 staff, and installing a textphone on each desk would be a huge cost and not very efficient.

It was decided to hold a roadshow in the canteen throughout the day so that all members of staff could find out how to use Typetalk.

They were amazed at how simple the system is to use and they said they would recommend Typetalk to their friends and family as many of them were elderly with hearing problems.

The day was a complete success; the College of Surgeons is now Typetalk-trained and the IT department has put the Typetalk preface onto the direct dial of all 250 telephones.

Our Minicoms were marvellous when they first appeared but the machines have now become somewhat antiquated and disregarded with the arrival of our more modern faxes and mobile phones.

We still need them in the house to receive text messages and for conversation with other deaf, but, as I suggested to the police recently, communication with them as well as professional bodies and service providers should now be confined to Typetalk, as one-to-one contact is more likely to be guaranteed.

Ten years ago it was looked upon as a great step forward for the deaf community and Minicoms were sold and installed in public places like banks, offices, hospitals and restaurants.

The initial enthusiasm did not last long and with staff changes and general ennui the machines often ended up in drawers and cupboards, and calls went unheeded.

There has been a little resistance to Typetalk among some members of the deaf community and their hearing friends because of the issue of confidentiality, but all operators are now trained in the importance of privacy and discretion and this is no longer an issue.

© 2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd