By Nicole Davis
In today’s technologically advanced world, something as simple as picking up the phone isn’t so simple anymore. Call centers are now being equipped with devices that allow the center to communicate with people who are hearing-impaired. The technology is still relatively new, but it is creating a new way to connect with an old market.
In 1963, a deaf physicist named Robert H. Weitbrecht developed an acoustic machine that allowed a phone to be connected to a text telephone, or TTY, which enabled hearing impaired people to make phone calls. Now, it is being used in call centers who want to reach people who are deaf, hearing impaired, or speech impaired. A TTY is needed at both ends of the conversation in order for the two parties to communicate. The TTY box consists of a keyboard, which holds between 20-30 character keys, a display screen, and a modem.
To use a TTY, the caller would call a specific phone number and then type a message on the TTY’s keyboard. As the message is being typed, it is sent over a regular phone line and the receiver can read the message. Users can’t type at the same time or interrupt each other and like in an email, users can abbreviate words to speed up the conversation. According to the Rochester Institute of Technology, TTY has over four million users worldwide.
“The machine takes a letter typed and converts it to a tone and is sent to the other end and converted back,” explained Steve Diels, President of Aamcom, a full service call and messaging center. “It has a sound like a touchtone phone; each key has its own tone.”
Aamcom’s call center in California has been using the TTY system with its contract with the California Highway Patrol. There are call boxes on the sides of the highway where stranded motorists can call for help. In Los Angeles, there are 4,000 call boxes. There is a small screen on the box and a small keypad like that of a computer. The caller can use either the TTY version or the standard phone.
One problem with TTY is that most of the in-coming calls are from people who are not hearing-impaired and who have just dialed the wrong number. According to Diels, only one call out of the thousands of TTY calls received was from a hearing-impaired person.
“We’ve had the system for over six months and one-third of the calls from our call boxes are false,” he said. “I’m not sure if it is worth it or not. We are not marketing to the TTY community; we’ve filled a contract that needed it.”
Many companies are now demanding TTY in their contracts with call centers. If a call center does not have TTY capabilities, they won’t get the contract. Companies such as governments, universities, even large public companies are realizing that there is a large community that can be reached with a simple tool. At least 12 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss and at least one million of these people experience it so severely that it interferes with daily activity, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
“We are seeing an increase in companies that want the TTY system,” said Joe Waldren, software engineer for Amtelco, which designs the TTY interface for call centers. “Although we currently have less than ten sites using the TTY system, the use is widespread throughout the deaf population. For call centers bidding on government contracts, it’s a big deal.”
For call centers looking at future contracts, the additional need of a TTY system may become more common. To have the opportunity to reach a large community is appealing to many companies and to have the option of using TTY may win a call center a large contract.
Just like it is common today to say ‘don’t’ and we’d’, TTY conversations have abbreviations. As well as everyday shorthand, here are some useful abbreviations for starting and ending a conversation, from the Rochester Institute of Technology:
ABT – about
ANS – answer
ASAP – as soon as possible
ASST – assistance
BIZ – business
CD – could
CHK – check
CMTY – community
CN – can
CTR – center
CUL – see you later
GA – go ahead (this is used to let the other person know you have finished replying)
GA to SK – go ahead but I’m done (let’s the other person know you have finished the conversation)
HAND – have a nice day
HD – hold (used if you need to step away for a moment)
IMPT – important
MIN – minute
MSG – message
N – and
PLS – please
R – are
SHD – should
SK – stop keying (ends the call)
TMW – tomorrow
XX – error (used if you make a spelling mistake, just type XX then type the correct spelling)
Vendors with Fully Integrated TTY/TDD Capability
Alston Tascom‘s TDD/TTY feature is a multi-line text call processing service that interfaces with their Evolution system. When an inbound call is received for a TDD/TTY account, the call is queued for agent access along with voice calls. When an agent of the appropriate distribution group receives the call, the account information is displayed. The agent can then provide services to the hearing and speech-impaired caller that includes call answering, dispatch, resource access, and relay services as required. Using TDD modem technology and intuitive software, the Alston Tascom TTY/TDD service is a cost effective solution.
Alston Tascom’s TTY/TDD feature allows call centers to meet the ADA requirements and provide compliance services to clients. It also allows users to offer subscription relay services for additional revenue.
The Amtelco Infinity TTY/TDD interface is an optional feature that makes it possible for agents to answer and process TTY/TDD calls from hearing- and speech-impaired callers. This is accomplished without the need for acoustic couplers to be installed at each workstation.
The software-based Infinity TTY/TDD Interface uses special modems, linked to the telephony server via a serial connection. TTY calls are then distributed to agents using Infinity’s automated call distribution (ACD) capabilities.
A TTY call is presented to an agent like any live call. When answered, the TTY Messaging prompt is displayed and a text chat session is instituted. The agent and the TTY caller can then communicate using typed messages. The text generated during the TTY chat session can be saved to a message ticket for later dispatching or distribution, as well as for client reporting, billing, and archival purposes.
[From Connection Magazine – October 2004]