CapTel Showcased on The Balancing Act

  • Dec 15, 2011
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  • publicrelationsdept

David Blanchard and Anne Girard from Hamilton CapTel recently appeared on “The Balancing Act” on Lifetime to share a heartwarming story of how captioned telephone changed the life of a little boy and his grandpa. Click here to watch the clip.

To find out how CapTel could help you or your loved one, visit www.hamiltoncaptel.com.

AT&T and the Virginia Relay Center: 20 Years Together

  • Nov 18, 2011
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  • publicrelationsdept

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.”

State provided services help hard of hearing use phones

  • May 31, 2011
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  • publicrelationsdept

In honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month, Virginia Relay was featured in Sunday’s edition of the Suffolk News-Herald. Here’s the article:

State provided services help hard of hearing use phones

By Emily Collins

Picking up the phone and calling a family member seems like an easy task, but it’s quite the opposite for someone who can’t hear the person on the other end of the line.

During Better Hearing and Speech Month in May, the Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has been spreading the word about services that make the telephone more accessible.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to learn about the communication needs of the deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and speech disabled,” said Clayton Bowen, the relay and technology programs manager for VDDHH.

There are three state-run services that Virginia provides for the deaf and hard of hearing. “Relay services serves as their access to the telephone network. Otherwise, they would not be able to use the network to call their families or call businesses,” Bowen said.

In 1991, the Virginia Relay became the first state-run service to improve telephone communication for people with hearing and speech problems.

The service provides users with the ability to type and read their phone conversations using a TTY telephone with a keyboard.

By dialing 711, an operator will read the user’s words to a hearing recipient and then type what the person says back.

Bowen said traditional relay has expanded rapidly since its inception, and there are now several relay call centers in the state.

In addition to the traditional services, there are two others available.

CAPTEL, which stands for captioned telephone, became available in 2004 but has gained popularity in recent years.

CAPTEL phones, which have screens, use voice recognition technology to show a transcript of the conversation to the user.

“That is particularly popular with seniors and adults who have lost their hearing, but they can still speak very clearly,” Bowen said. “For a senior, it’s much like the same experience they had with using the phone before they lost their hearing.”

Another service, Video Relay also makes for a more natural conversation, but in this service, the user has a web camera or videophone and signs to an interpreter who relays the message to the other person.

Bowen said deaf people usually like this service because it does not require them to speak.

He added its popularity has increased over the years because the technology has become more widely available.

“It has become more and more popular as Internet is more accessible to the public now,” he said. “The price of video phones and webcams has become more reasonable.”

Video Relay requires an Internet connection and special software that is free of charge when you sign up for the service.

Additionally, traditional relay and CAPTEL required special telephones, but many users can receive the TTY and CAPTEL phones for free or at a discounted rate through the Technology Assistance Program through VDDHH.

Bowen said anyone interested in the services for themselves or for someone else should contact the VDDHH.

For more information, visit www.vddhh.org or call 800-552-7917.

(Courtesy of the Suffolk News-Herald)

Common FAQ about Mobile Video Relay Services

  • May 20, 2011
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  • publicrelationsdept

Technology has transformed cell phones from simple devices that make calls to complex gadgets that can do just about anything. One of the greatest innovations to the cell phone for a deaf or hard-of-hearing person has been the introduction of a front-facing camera, which allows the user to view the display screen and the camera at the same time. This now common feature led to the creation of mobile video relay services, first introduced in June 2010 when ZVRS announced VRS support on the new iPhone.

How does Video Relay Service (VRS) work?
VRS allows deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to have telephone conversations with hearing people. Mobile VRS allows users with a videophone and real-time video connection to connect with an interpreter who “relays” the conversation between the two parties. The interpreter voices what the deaf person is signing to the hearing caller and translates the spoken words into American Sign Language (ASL) for the deaf/hard-of-hearing caller to see on screen.

What are the pros and cons of mobile VRS?
Pros:

  • Some providers have good, clear video, even in 3G
  • Most apps have flash and vibrating alerts for incoming calls
  • Some providers have easy dialing on Google
  • Mobility = Freedom (to do errands and such, not be stuck near home/office video phone)
  • Save time communicating in ASL compared to lengthy or complicated texting or email

Cons:

  • Some providers’ address books do not sync properly
  • Some providers drain battery faster than others
  • Some providers use too many phone #’s  for each device
  • Some providers are not interoperable (point to point calls) with different providers
  • Some providers have limited data plans

What should I consider when getting a new cell phone?
There are a few things to take into consideration when thinking about getting a new cell phone to use for mobile VRS. The phone should include:

  • A front-facing camera
  • A fast processor
  • High-speed internet such as 4G and Wifi, but 3G is ok

Once you have found your phone or phone choices, double check to see if a mobile VRS service supports your choices.

Where can I see a demonstration for mobile VRS?
You can view two different videos on mobile VRS here:

What mobile VRS providers are available?
There are several providers that have mobile VRS available, including:

  • Sprint Relay
  • Sorenson
  • ZVRS
  • Convo Relay
  • Purple Communications
  • AT&T
  • Mainstream VRS

What applications are available to use?
There are many applications that can be downloaded onto your cell phone. A few of these include:

VRS service providers are realizing that mobile VRS will be a big part of our future. It is our hope that because technology is constantly evolving, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community will be able to greatly benefit from these innovations.