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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Recognising potential
Rob visits Teletec
Teletec's new system uses a versatile microphone
New technology can be a great help for deaf people to get on in the world of work.

There are already minicom machines which send text messages to other machines and an American firm has devised something called a Captel machine.

This allows people to make normal calls which are then intercepted by a captioner who transcribes the conversation onto the receivers machine.

But one British firm has now gone a step further.

Teletec based in Cranfield has created a system that recognises any number of voices.

The users talk into a microphone. Their words are picked up by a call centre which then transcribes what is being said onto a screen for the benefit of the person who is hard of hearing.

The system can handle a number of conversations at once which means it's useful for conferences and meetings.

Call centre

Teletec has a call centre at its Bedfordshire premises.

Paul Castelton is a captioner there. He admits it can be a difficult job at first.

"Once you pick up the fact that you are listening for different accents and so forth you switch into a completely different mode," he says.

Paul often has to work his way through business jargon so to make things easier he often requests information in advance about the kinds of terms and abbreviations he's likely to hear.

At the moment calls for the user are expensive at 1 per minute so Teletec is concentrating on the business conference market.

They're hoping that as more firms take it up, prices will be driven down.

Diverse

It took Teletec two years to adapt the Captel system into their instant captioning system. Christopher Jones, the company's managing director believes its scope is its strength.

Technology can open up the workplace to the hard of hearing
"It allows full access to information in one on one or group meeting and seminars," he explains.

"The potential is enormous because at the moment we have a chronic shortage of communication support in the UK so it is essential that we have people who have the new technology to improve access.

"It covers employment at the moment but the next step would be to cover higher and further education. Also doctors and hospitals".

The RNID (the Royal National Institute for Deaf people) believes workplace support for those with hearing difficulties is crucial.

"One in seven people in this country are either deaf or hard of hearing which is an enormous pool of talent that businesses need to open themselves up to," explains Chris Underwood, RNID.

The RNID offer free deaf awareness training for any small and medium sized businesses.

Ofcom

The cost of new technology does mean much of it is unavailable to most deaf people.

Teletec are hoping that the telecoms regulator Ofcom will soon recognise the lack of funding and make communication in homes, not just workplaces, easier for the hard of hearing.

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