2006 Conference General Sessions

NEXTALK, THE MAIN STATE GOVERNMENT ALTERNATIVE TO TTY FOR THE DEAF

 

 

Presenter(s)
Floyd White
Office of Information Technology, State of Maine

145 State House Station
Augusta ME 04333
Day Phone: 207-624-9437
Fax: 207-287-4563
Email: floyd.b.white@maine.gov

Presenter #2
Kathy Record
Office of Information Technology, State of Maine

145 State House Station
Augusta ME 04333

Day Phone: 207-624-7573

Fax: 207-287-4563

Email: kathy.record@maine.gov

Through internal and external call testing by the State of Maine Department Of Deafness, statistics displayed that TTYs within state agencies were not being answered to an acceptable level. TTYs can be frightening to employees that for whatever reason, are not familiar with the machine or communicating with the deaf and hard of hearing. All deaf and hard of hearing people have the legal right to equal access to Federal and State services. It was decided that something had to be done.

 

NexTalk is a software application that installs on Windows PC5 and is serving as a viable alternative to TTYs for the deaf and hard of hearing within all state government agencies across the State of Maine.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works. When a TTY call comes into state government assigned phone numbers, they go through what is called the telephony server. This server converts TTY messages into a format that can be moved to the network server as readable text much like instant messaging. The call is moved to the network by way of a communication card hooked to both servers. Once in the network, the call is directed to the user(s) associated with the called phone number. Scripts can also be written to filter a call to a specific sub-department, service or user. When a call comes in, a ringer sound (Wave file) can be set up with a soundcard and the ring box appears on the users PC with options for answering, not answering or taking a message. Hardware visual devices can also be added for the deaf and hard of hearing user. When a call is answered, a screen called the conversation viewer appears. The
conversation is then ‘real time’ meaning each participant sees the letters and words as they are being typed. There is no send button necessary. Proper TTY etiquette is imperative for both the caller and callee.

 

If the user chooses the take message option or is not available to take the call directed to he or she. The caller can leave a message for future reading. NexTalk can also send a copy of this message to the user’s Email address.

NexTalk was implemented in one of our larger departments in the spring/early summer of 2005 as a pilot and first phase. We learned great lessons from our experiences, including what not to do and what we feel are bet practices. All other agencies/departments have been brought into the process and phased in according to logistical and staffing circumstances.

There are many components to making NexTalk a success. First, it is vitally important to identify a project management team who will develop an implementation plan with timelines and a strategy for delivery. Once the project is under way, agency/department liaisons and customer support personnel need to be named and overviews of NexTalk features and benefits should be presented to them as well as to department managers rollout to each agency must be coordinated with agency liaisons, phone company and in—state service representatives. Each agency must determine which employees will be responsible for answering and responding to TTY or other NexTalk calls. All users will need some level of training depending on their comfort level with information technology in general and PC software tools in particular. It should be noted however that NexTalk is very easy to use. It is also crucial that all users, liaisons, customer support staff and agency/department managers be trained to understand deaf culture.

Once the hardware and software is installed and statewide and internal agency policies are in place, agencies can be brought on board. This requires coordination with the project team, internal and external phone line staff and of course liaisons, users and customer support staff.

 

Before or in parallel with implementation, there is a substantial amount of testing that needs to be done to insure that the system is working properly.

In coordination with the Statewide Standing Accessibility Committee, we have developed a testing plan and brought in a volunteer resource pool of testers to help us gather monitoring statistics for call response from our NexTalk users and determine our efficiency with providing services to the deaf community. It is imperative to understand that we feel NexTalk is a very robust tool, but it is just the tool and only the first step in achieving our goal in providing equal access to all people.


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