Contract Extension will Keep the Relay Center in Norton Open through July 2015, Maintaining the Current Workforce
Governor Terry McAuliffe announced today that a one-year contract extension has been signed with AT&T to maintain traditional telecommunication relay services currently provided by the Relay Center in Norton, Virginia. The Center provides telecommunications access for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, and speech-disabled. The contract extension was recently negotiated by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency in conjunction with the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The extension keeps the Center operational through July 31, 2015.
Speaking today about the announcement, Governor McAuliffe said, “The contract extension provides over $8 million in revenue to the local economy and maintains up to 80 full-time positions at the Relay Center. We look forward to continuing our contractual relationship with AT&T, the Commonwealth’s telecommunications relay provider since 1991. I would also like to thank Senator Phillip Puckett for his leadership on this critical issue for Southwest Virginia.”
The extension also meets or exceeds all current federal standards for the service and preserves the Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s certification by the Federal Communications Commission as the Commonwealth’s oversight entity for relay services. The Center processes approximately 1,000 traditional relay calls per day for persons who cannot readily access the standard telephone network.
Ronald Lanier, the Director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing commented “With perhaps the most dedicated and experienced relay operators in the nation, the contract extension will continue to provide full access to the standard telephone network for Virginia citizens with communication challenges. The quality of services provided by the Center’s employees distinguishes them from others, and our customers can tell the difference. ” Director Lanier went on to compliment the cooperation shown by AT&T, the efforts of the contracting staff at the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, and the support from the City of Norton in making the extension a reality.
“The quality of the people is why we originally got the relay center here and why it has stayed,” said Fred Ramey, Norton’s Assistant City Manager. “The AT&T Communication Assistants are active volunteers, raise money, give back to the community, and forge a special connection to the deaf and hard of hearing population. The Relay Center has been much more than just a business in town”, Ramey said. “Twenty years ago, the region faced double-digit unemployment. The location of the Center here had an instant impact on quality employment that had not been seen in the area until then”, Ramey recalls. “We are pleased to continue our relationship with both the Commonwealth and AT&T”.
About Virginia Relay and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
A public service of the Commonwealth, Virginia Relay enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or speech-disabled to communicate with standard telephone users. The conversation is relayed between two parties by specially-trained communications operators. Relay services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, and by law, are handled with strictest confidentiality. Special features are also available for captioned relay (CapTel®), Spanish-speaking, and sign language users. Virginia Relay services are easily accessible to anyone by dialing 7-1-1 or calling 800-828-1140. The Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s (VDDHH) Technology Assistance Program provides the most up-to-date technologies and assistive communication devices for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing including Veterans living with a hearing or speech loss. VDDHH also provides community outreach services and referral, coordination, and skills assessment for sign language interpreters. For more information on Virginia Relay and its calling features, please visit www.varelay.org, or call VDDHH at 800-552-7917 v/tty.
This month, Virginia Relay will be saying a bittersweet goodbye to AT&T Channel Manager Matt Myrick. After almost nine years with Virginia Relay, Matt has accepted a well-deserved promotion to become an Accessibility Solutions Engineer for AT&T. In his new position, he will be inspecting all of AT&T’s new products and services to help ensure they are compliant with FCC standards before they are released to the public.
Matt will continue to live in the area in his new job, and he is excited for the new perspective and opportunities his new position will offer. But he will miss getting to travel and meet Relay users across Virginia. During his time with Virginia Relay, Matt has seen the program grow stronger, thanks to the dedication of its outreach team.
“The programs we’ve launched over the years would not have been successful without the support of our contract outreach managers,” he said. “Virginia Relay is considered a model for a lot of other states, because it has some of the best staff and CAs in the country.”
Matt says his favorite part of working with Virginia Relay has been the people he’s met along the way.
“I’m so grateful to have worked with great people like Clayton Bowen, Ron Lanier, and everyone at VDDHH,” he said. “Working with them has been a real pleasure and has made me grow in a professional way. I’ve really enjoyed working with them over the years, and I want to say thank you for all of the support they’ve given me over the years, and thank you especially to Clayton Bowen.”
Join us in thanking Matt for the great service he has provided to the Virginia Relay program, and wishing him all the best in his next endeavor. Congratulations, Matt!
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.”
The Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH) and Virginia Relay, the federally-mandated public service that enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind and speech disabled to place and receive calls via a standard telephone line, announced today that it has again selected AT&T* as its contracted service provider of traditional relay services. The new contract will take effect August 1, 2011, will remain in effect for three years, and includes options for four one-year extensions beyond 2014. In addition, the contract maintains the current employment level at AT&T’s Norton Virginia relay call center.
The new contract with AT&T preserves Virginia Relay’s current level of service quality as it continues to provide the most up-to-date technologies enabling people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and speech disabled to communicate via a standard telephone. In 2011, Virginia Relay is celebrating its 20th anniversary of providing high-quality telecommunications to state residents from the Norton site.
“We are very happy to announce that this new contract with AT&T will maintain our current workforce in Norton, and we know the Relay Center staff is thrilled and relieved as well,” said Ronald Lanier, Director, VDDHH. “AT&T and Virginia Relay have a long-standing relationship that has provided Virginia’s deaf and hard-of-hearing communities with high-quality technology and services for over 20 years, and we look forward to continuing to work together in the future.”
“AT&T is very pleased to continue our relationship with the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Gregory Smith, Director-Market Development, AT&T Customer Information Services. “We feel every individual should be able to communicate with others as easily as possible. Working together with VDDHH and Virginia Relay, we remain committed to providing premiere services to Virginia’s hearing and speech loss communities.”
For more information about Virginia Relay and its services, please visit www.varelay.org or call 1-800-552-7917.
*AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc.
About Virginia Relay
Virginia Relay and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH) provide the most up-to-date technologies and assistive devices to enable people who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind and speech impaired to communicate via a standard telephone network. Virginia Relay services are easily accessible to anyone by dialing 7-1-1. For more information on Virginia Relay and its calling features, please visit www.varelay.org, or call VDDHH at 804-662-9502 v/tty.
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