Let’s talk face to face, literally.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in his blog on April 14, 2016 advocating for Direct Video Communication. He’s certainly not one to simply talk the talk; he also walks the walk. FCC has an ASL hotline in where anyone whose primary language is ASL is able to call in at (844) 432-2275 and interact with someone purely via ASL, and without relying on a VRS operator to interpret the conversation.
A section of his blog post couldn’t have explained it better:“The bad news in this good news story is that while digital technology has opened the door to making such a call without a third party relay interpreter, that capability is very limited. Most federal agencies, for instance, don’t have direct video access for those who communicate in ASL. Neither do most companies. […]Based on the success at the FCC and the advance of technology, it is now time to expand direct video calling beyond the FCC and make it available to all levels of government and companies who answer consumer inquiries. As the federal agency responsible for the communications of all Americans, the FCC is embarking on a year-long, two-part process to expand direct video connectivity for deaf, hard of hearing, and speech disabled individuals who communicate in ASL.
The first step in this process is evangelizing the success of the FCC’s ASL Consumer Support Line. The simultaneous second step in this process is to harness technology to make it easier for both the ASL caller and recipient to talk to each other. Building on our experience, we are constructing a “cut out the middleman” Video Access Platform for callers and call-takers. By this time next year we will have in the market an application usable on any fixed or mobile operating system that will bring up a list of participating agencies and companies. All an ASL-user will need to do is click or tap on who they want to talk to and the call will be connected to someone fluent in ASL. For those receiving the calls, the platform’s open APIs will enable easy interoperability.After seeing what the FCC did, the Small Business Administration, to their great credit, has adopted our approach. Other federal agencies, particularly those with high call volumes, like the Social Security Administration and IRS, should consider offering direct video calling as well. The same should hold true for those companies with large numbers of customers who are deaf, hard of hearing and speech disabled. Hiring an ASL signer to respond to direct video communication from these customers makes all the sense in the world. Not only will this facilitate communication access; if the individuals hired have a disability themselves, this will also increase their employment opportunities.”
Claude Stout, TDI Executive Director, said, “FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has continued to be a champion for the disability community. We deeply appreciate his sharing of the good news that other federal agencies are considering adopting the approach the FCC has taken with its ASL call center, established there in June, 2014. This gives us deaf and hard of hearing Americans the options of calling our contacts in federal agencies, directly with their customer call centers, or via telecommunications relay services (VRS, IP-Relay or IP-CTS).”
Indeed, it is now time to expand direct video calling beyond the FCC and make it available to all levels of government and companies who answer consumer inquiries. We look forward to efforts to transforming Wheeler’s vision into reality!