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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VII, Issue 6||June 2004|
By Kathy Record
The State of Maine has been a model for other states in providing access to departments and agencies for all citizens including the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired. Most often citizens make initial contact with the state by phone, or in the case of the deaf or hard of hearing, by TTY. Implementing NexTalk is the next step to advance the communications technology.
To understand NexTalk, an understanding of TTY communications is necessary. The TTY is a communication device used by deaf or hard-of-hearing people which connects to the standard phone line and consists of a keyboard and a small display to view the scrolling text of the conversation. The person responding to the TTY call must be trained in the technology as well. State government has approximately 165 TTY’s in service. The Division of Deafness makes test calls on a regular basis to ensure that people are responding to the calls.
|The results of the testing showed that only 42%
of the calls made from a TTY device are answered. Jan DeVinney, Director of
the Division of Deafness, addressed this serious deficiency with a two
pronged approach. The first was to improve the TTY system. A process was
developed to identify the TTY’s and locations with a low response rate, and
offer training and technical assistance to all involved users. Additionally,
a letter was sent to all Commissioners from Dick Thompson, CIO, requesting
that each department review their utilization of TTY’s. Numbers were
identified that should be de-listed either because the assigned number is
not being used, or the TTY at that number is used so little it serves no
purpose. Jan’s second initiative was to partner with the State’s Information
Technology Accessibility Committee in recommending an alternative to the
present TTY system. The suggested replacement was NexTalk.
What is NexTalk? NexTalk is a network based system with special provisions for the communication needs of the deaf and hard of hearing, but with advanced communications and messaging features. It is a blending of telephone and computer technologies which links TTY callers with every NexTalk personal computer user on the local and wide area networks. With NexTalk, any TTY call can be answered and then transferred to another NexTalk user or group of users (department). This system is currently used successfully by the US Department of Education.
Once the decision was made to implement this new software, Lisa Thompson of the Bureau of Information Services, agreed to lead the project team. At this time, the server installation and administrative setup is completed to the point where testing has begun. Working closely with Jan DeVinney and Nancy Melanson, Lisa has successfully completed calls to/from TTY’s and client, and client to client. The next step is to expand testing by having the testing volunteers download the NexTalk client software to their personal computers and participate in more comprehensive testing.
We expect that NexTalk will increase the rate of successful TTY communications, and the elimination of the unused TTY’s will reduce the State’s costs. The team feels confident that TTY to NexTalk calls will work successfully and that the State of Maine will, once again, be a pioneer and role model in using technology to increase accessibility.
Kathy Record is an IT Management Analyst in the office of the Chief Information Officer. She may be reached with questions by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.