Call centre offers real-time translation for deaf

A Canadian company is helping people who are deaf or hearing- or speech-impaired connect to others in new ways using an enhanced IP network.

The call centre — which Montreal-based Nordia set up after winning a contract to provide

relay services for the state of California — allows those who are hearing or speech impaired to talk with others through a variety of means, including through sign language over the Web. Nordia, which also provides relay services for Bell Canada, worked with Nortel to set up a combination IP and public switch telephone network.

Relay services help those who are hearing- or speech-impaired talk with those who are not. For example, a person who is hard of hearing can use a call centre to connect with others by typing his or her message into a TTY or telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) phone. The communications assistant (CA) at Nordia’s call centre then relays the message by voice to the person being called and types in the response. Now callers can also connect to CAs through Internet Relay and Video Relay services.

With Nordia’s Internet Relay services, callers can use computers rather than TTY phones to type in their messages. And with Video Relay services, they can convey their messages through CAs using sign language if they have an Internet camera on their computer. The service is provided in both English and Spanish, and callers can choose which gender they prefer the CA to be.

“The true objective is to make it sound like a person-to-person call,” said Pierre Grimard, the vice-president of technology at Nordia.

Callers can also make three-way calls through Nordia’s service.

Nordia had six months to build the call centre after winning a contract to provide relay services for California. The service has been up and running since Dec. 2, 2004. Providing relay services across the border presented a challenge, as relay calls don’t normally cross borders, Grimard said. The signals are different and Nordia worked with Bell to make switches to bridge the two. Though the contact centre is located in Canada, the service is only available in the U.S.

The call centre uses Nortel’s Symposium Call Center Server and Computer Telephony Integration technology.

In giving customers connecting through the Web the same type of priority as those connecting through traditional means, Nordia is doing what many companies need to start doing, said Roxann Swanson the VP and GM of multimedia applications at Nortel in Bohemia, N.Y.

“It’s really a matter of preference for contact centre customers to be able to contact and get content or get some kind of information from a company in the format that they want it.”

However, many businesses are still trying to figure out how to incorporate contacts made over the Internet into their business, she said.

“Every business is getting e-mail, and the e-mails are being handled way differently than the way a regular call would be handled,” Swanson said. “There’s no priority given to them, there’s no real special handling. It really is somebody who, when they finally have time, goes over and drags down some of the e-mails and start answering them.”

Newer call centres are much more likely to incorporate IP than old centres, she said.

“The contact centres that are burnt in are slower to take the leap.”

Whether Nordia will be offering enhanced IP to Bell customers will depend on the telecommunications provider, Grimard said, adding that the company would like to provide the service to other customers, Grimard said.

“It’s a platform we want to leverage on.”

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