Nectec in Thailand launches aid for deaf people

Asia-Pacific, March 2 2011

Mar 02: Deaf people will soon be able to access the services of call centres as easily as those with normal speech and hearing.

In the next few months, the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) plans to set up a relay-call centre to help people with speech and hearing disabilities to reach both government and private-sector call centres.

The director of Nectec’s Applied Research and Assessment Service for Assistive Technology, Wantanee Phantachat, said that within five years, the relay-call centre would be capable of serving 3,000 deaf and dumb people in the community.

The relay-call centre will be supported by funding from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which has already contributed Bt49.9 million for its first year of operations. The NTC earlier signed a memorandum of understanding with Nectec and gave the five-year plan conceptual approval.

Nectec is working on developing the centre and plans to start its services in July.

Wantanee said the centre would be equipped with technologies researched and developed by Nectec to help people with speech and hearing disabilities to reach and use call-centre services.

The concept is to establish a specialised call centre that will relay the details of calls made by disabled people to call centres catering for normal callers. Nectec’s relay centre will be equipped with text-to-speech technology and be staffed by agents able to communicate with disabled callers.

In a first phase, the centre will provide six kinds of relay services, dealing with calls originating from SMS and MMS communications, from the Internet, from video and video-on-mobile contacts and through video remote interpretation. It will also provide an emergency service.

Wantanee said disabled callers could contact the relay service via any available channel, including the Internet, SMS-telephone and text telephone. They will deliver their messages using the language of deaf and dumb people or show a video clip to an agent. The agent will then contact the destination call centre on behalf of the disabled caller.

When the destination call centre responds to the inquiry, the agent will “translate” that voice message into the unique language of the deaf and dumb caller. The exchange will continue in this fashion until the disabled caller’s requirements are met. There will be charges for all transactions between relay-centre agents and normal call centres, but the relay centre will make no charge for its services, since these will be subsidised by the NTC.

“It seems like we are setting up an assistance service between deaf and dumb people and normal call centres, to help them to communicate. In the past, these disabled people were left behind. They cannot use call-centre services because they are unable to communicate normally,” Wantanee said.

The first phase of the service will cost Bt49.9 million. This will be spent on the relay centre’s establishment; technologies, including hardware and software; and agents.

In its first year, the centre will have seven agents who will be able to communicate with deaf and dumb people, and it is expected to serve just 300 exclusive users. Within five years, when it is fully operational, the centre will have 45 call agents and the ability to serve 3,000 exclusive users.

“The total number of people in the community with hearing disabilities is about 300,000. Under out plan, we will help about 3,000 exclusive users,” she said.

Ultimately, the relay-call centre will have its own operating team, and after five years it is expected to be receiving support from many organisations.

“The Universal Service Obligation that is placed on universal service providers ensures that standard telephone services, payphones and prescribed carriage services are reasonably accessible to all people in Thailand on an equitable basis, wherever they reside or carry on business. Telecommunications firms pay a 4-per-cent tax to ensure this obligation is met, and part of that will be used to run this centre,” Wantanee said.

Nectec is also collaborating with the NTC to develop standards for telecommunication equipment and to set up a technology-demonstration centre for disabled people.

The so-called demo centre, which was launched last month, presently offers demonstrations of 35 technologies for disabled people. Its concept is to show technologies developed by Nectec and other organisations, including TOT and CAT Telecom, as well as commercial technologies from abroad. These technologies aim to help people with physical, hearing and visual disabilities to gain access to communication services, and include SMS telephones, text telephones and the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) on mobile phones.

The standards for telecommunications equipment being jointly developed by Nectec and the NTC have already been the subject of public hearings. The standards will act as guidelines for companies developing telecommunications equipment, to ensure that it caters for the needs of disabled people and enables them to access telecommunications services.


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