Pioneering video telephone system accessible for all
27 April 2010
A groundbreaking telecommunications system, Total Conversation, that will provide both person-to-person communication and integration with all other telephone users is launched today [Tuesday 27 April] by the REACH112 project.
This is a complete alternative to voice telephones and is aimed firstly at people who do not have easy access to voice phones. Total Conversation, which is a new national infrastructure, mandates video, voice and text simultaneously in telephone calls. Users will be able to sign up for free at www.myfriendcentral.com.
The €8.8 million European project is designed to provide visual telecommunications to deaf people who wish to use sign language or text communication, and to offer an integrated video and voice capacity for other groups who have difficulty with voice phones.
Users can make calls from home using supplied videophones, or using their home computers or when on the move with special free software suitable for the smallest netbooks. Textphone users and also those with RNID´s TalkByText applications for PCs and mobile phones will also be integrated into the system.
The system will be extended shortly by a video relay service to translate signed information from Deaf people to speech and vice versa. Next year, 2011, there will be direct access to emergency services so that 999 call centres will be able to see callers as well as communicate with them.
The project has created a national and international telecommunications infrastructure for video telecommunications and relay services and during the launch event, the system will be demonstrated. The European initiative is happening in five countries, Sweden, UK, the Netherlands, France and Spain.
The service created will be of a special value to Deaf and hard of hearing people who will be able to use sign language and text to communicate at a distance with all other telephone users. People with speech and learning disabilities will also find benefits in the system.
Jim Kyle, Professor of Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies and one of the project’s partners, said: “REACH112 is unique and offers a service for everyone, not only the Deaf community. Users will be able to see each other when they call, will be able to use relay services and will also be able to access 999/112 services directly. They will be able to use standard telephone numbers and will be reachable by textphone users and by hearing people through the interpreting service.”
Chief Inspector, John Hart of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary Communications Department, added: “People need to be able to contact the police easily, either in an emergency or to contact their neighbourhood PC.
“We do have things in place to provide an alternative to voice phones for people to contact us. For example, we have Police Link Officers for Deaf people (PLOD) officers, trained in sign language, based on each district. However this instant video communication system won’t require an appointment and will be quicker and more responsive than texting.”
REACH112 will focus on the needs of the most challenging users:
- Deaf sign language users;
- Deafened (use speech for communicating to others but need visual means to understand others’ speech);
- People with a hearing loss but who use speech and text;
- People who are deaf-blind and need enhanced video, voice and text;
- Hard-of-hearing (including those who are elderly and isolated) who may use speech, but need amplification and other visual cues;
- People with speech disabilities who may need relay service; and
- People with learning disabilities.
The partners in the project include international telecommunications companies: Vodafone (Spain), Siemens, Orange and Nokia. In the UK, the partnership include: the Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), AuPix Limited, Avon and Somerset Police and Avon Fire & Rescue Service.
AuPix is a telecommunications company based in Bristol. Since 1993 the team at AuPix has been working on the video telephony endpoints for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.
From early 2006 AuPix has also been supplying the infrastructure to enable video telephony calls over the internet. The products are desktop videophones, PC based softclients, Video PBXs and a Video Call Centre.
The company’s products are currently being used by two Video Relay Services in the USA.
They generate 100’s of thousands of VRS minutes every month.
AuPix role in REACH112:
• Creation and management of network infrastructure.
• Provision of Total Conversation (TC) client.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary
Avon and Somerset Constabulary takes 1.5 million calls a year – around three per minute - and is committed to being as accessible as possible to everyone in the very diverse community it serves.
The Communications Department provides a 24/7 response to emergency (999) and non-emergency calls for Avon and Somerset Constabulary from centres in Portishead and Taunton.
Police use a number of systems to try to ensure easy access to the service, including:
• Online crime reporting through the website or at hi-tech police ‘kiosks’ in community settings across the area.
• Typetalk text service on 18000.
• Minicom on 01275 816888.
• Using Language Line interpreters to talk to people whose first language is not English.
The Communications Department believes the Reach 112 project could benefit the community it serves and is happy to be able to support its development by running a pilot.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary role in Reach112:
• Enable TC in the communications centre during the pilot.
• Evaluate the interactions with disabled users.
• Advise on the development of TC enabled emergency services.
Avon Fire & Rescue Service Operational and community safety service for Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (population ~ one million).
• Tweny-three fire stations.
• 30,000 incidents per annum.
• Thirty-seven frontline fire appliances, five aerial appliances, four rescue tenders, three boats, two command vehicles, one environmental unit, one hovercraft and specialist “NewDimensions” equipment introduced following the 9/11 attacks.
(AF&RS) role in Reach112:
• Train contact centre staff and relay services.
• Enable Total Conversation within the emergency control centre for the pilot period.
The Centre for Deaf Studies
The Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol opened in 1978 and was Europe’s first academic institution to concentrate solely on research and education that aims to benefit the Deaf community. The majority of teaching staff on the programme are Deaf and all tutors sign. Students at the Centre for Deaf Studies in Bristol will study within a bilingual environment, with an emphasis on acquiring fluency in British Sign Language (BSL).
The first research work began at CDS in 1978 with a study of how people learn and use BSL and was then broadened by further work in the Deaf community. Since then CDS have expanded their work in five main areas:
• The study of sign language and sign linguistics;
• The study of sign language acquisition;
• Deaf community, Deaf culture and Deafhood;
• Cognition, mental health, education;
• Video telecommunications, video information and e-learning.
CDS role in REACH112:
• User identification, training, installations, support to users and evaluation procedures and reporting protocols.
RNID is the charity working to create a world where deafness or hearing loss do not limit or determine opportunity, and where people value their hearing. We work by campaigning and lobbying, raising awareness of deafness and hearing loss, promoting hearing health, providing services and through social, medical and technical research.
For further information about RNID or to become a member, visit www.rnid.org.uk, contact RNID's Information Line on 0808 808 0123 (freephone) or 0808 808 9000 (textphone) or email email@example.com
RNID role in REACH112:
• Provide access to existing TextRelay.
• Use of standard T140 text in TalkByText, a text only system with editions for Windows on the Internet and Mobile phones via the Internet.
• Links for MyFriend TC application to existing user base of TalkByText and textphone users.