This year, the Virginia Relay Center celebrates its 20th anniversary. Last month, a special supplement appeared in The Coalfield Progress to honor the Relay Center and the people who work there. This is one of the articles that appeared in the paper:
AT&T and the Virginia Relay Center: 20 Years Together
Since the Virginia Relay Center opened in 1991, AT&T has been the sole provider of Virginia’s Relay services. As product manager of AT&T Relay services, Gail Sanchez has witnessed both Relay technology and the Relay Center evolve over the years, and was recently asked to reflect on AT&T and the Relay Center’s 20-year partnership.
“Twenty years ago, Relay centers were just starting to appear across the country, and Virginia was just the fifth state Relay call center opened by AT&T,” she said. “Virginia was a high-demand area for Relay services and we had a very high volume of calls coming in from the beginning.”
Even though the technologies then were limited and a bit awkward to use compared to the options of today, they were groundbreaking at the time, and the Relay Center opened a whole new world of opportunity to Virginia’s deaf and hard-of-hearing communities to communicate and connect with other people. “When we first began receiving calls at the Relay Center, you could actually hear the excitement in people’s voices when they were finally able to communicate with someone they hadn’t spoken to in a while,” said Sanchez.
“From the day the Relay Center opened, Virginia has always been a state that was determined to be very flexible for its Relay users,” said Sanchez. “The Virginia Relay Center was one of the first centers to offer roaming calls, so that users didn’t necessarily have to be in Virginia to call the Relay Center, and they were also one of the first states to use 711 before it became federally mandated in 2001 so that users didn’t have to commit the Relay Center’s 1-800 number to memory. A lot of Relay technologies and services that are now available everywhere were first introduced in the Virginia Relay Center.”
In the early 2000s, AT&T and the Virginia Relay Center again were on the forefront of technology as more automation capabilities were added to Relay Services, which included enabling a Relay user to dial the number of the person they wanted to call, rather than having to relay it to the CA. User profiles were also created to store a user’s preferred technology, so they no longer had to establish what kind of Relay call they wanted to make at the beginning of every phone call. This meant faster connections for Relay callers, with fewer steps between dialing the Relay Center and speaking to the person they wished to call.
“Some states still don’t offer automation with their Relay services, but Virginia has always been committed to providing its Relay users with the best possible experience,” said Sanchez.
As Virginia Relay and AT&T both celebrate their 20th anniversary of providing Relay services throughout the Commonwealth, Relay users have more options than ever before when it comes to telecommunications technology. However, Sanchez says that innovative technology is only one aspect of why the Virginia Relay Center is special.
“Virginia has the reputation for being the most experienced Relay Call Center in the industry. All of the CAs are well trained, and due to very little employee turnover at the center, most have years of experience,” she said. “The Speech-to-Speech staff is so skilled at what they do that AT&T manages all of its Speech-to-Speech services for the entire country through the Virginia Relay Center.”
In addition to their professional expertise, Sanchez says the Virginia Relay Center staff is also known for their hearts.
“The CAs of the Virginia Relay Center are known for being very dedicated to what they do, being committed to being the best at what they do, and for the outreach they do in their community.”
In August 2011, Virginia Relay and AT&T announced that a new contract had been signed to keep AT&T as Virginia’s Relay service provider through at least 2014, continuing a tradition that is now 20 years old.
“AT&T and the Virginia Relay Center have always had a wonderful working relationship, and AT&T is thrilled to have worked with the Center these past 20 years. Virginia has always had a sincere interest in providing the best Relay services for its residents, and we will continue to work together to give our users the best features and the best quality services.”