Special phones being tested

Shawntaye Hopkins

Voicemail may seem inaccessible to people with hearing impairments.

And caller identification is useless to people with certain visual impairments.

But technology is available that allows people with sensory impairments to use such features, and it may soon be offered to university employees and students.

The telecommunications office has ordered three telephones from Avaya, Inc., for a test group of people with visual impairments.

Avaya makes specialized telephones that allow people who are hearing or visually impaired to use the same telephone features as people who are not.

Guy Clinch, an education advocate at Avaya, said technology also creates equality for job seekers.

“It allows an institution like a college to be able to employ people with sensory disabilities,” Clinch said.

The telephones are free for the test group, but the telecommunications office paid $394 for each, said Edwin Craft, associate director of telecommunications. Future telephones will not be offered for free.

Although the first set of phones are for the visually impaired, Western will consider phones for the hearing impaired in the near future, Craft said.

“This is just the first step,” he said. “Then we’ll continue on with additional features that will benefit other impairments.”

A personal computer is needed to install software that works in conjunction with the phone. When a call is received, a computer voice speaks caller identification information.

The computer will also tell the receiver when a call is disconnected or if they have been placed on hold.

“This is going to really help the visually impaired students and faculty on campus to have the same

feature phones we have,” said

Huda Melky, equal opp-

ortunity/ADA compliance director.

The three people participating in the trial run are individuals who employees in the telecommunications and equal opportunity offices knew and thought would benefit from the telephones, Craft said.

“That’s a really small population, but that small population really does have a desire, need and want to utilize something like this,” he said.

Matt Davis, coordinator of student disability services, said there are 14 students on the Hill who are hearing impaired and 15 who are visually impaired.

Craft said he tested one phone in his office for about three weeks to see if it was something Western would want for its students,

faculty and staff who are

visually impaired.

The telephone in Craft’s office was given to Kimberly Parsley, editor of University Publications last week.

“It works.” Parsley said. “But it doesn’t do anything cool yet.”

Craft said the telephone has not yet been fixed to recognize Parsley’s number.

Other than the few things she’s heard, Parsley said she doesn’t know much about the telephone.

“It will be nice to have access here at work to all the advanced features the new phone offers,” she said.

Avaya and Western will seek input from the first group receiving the telephones, Craft said. Avaya wants to continue improving their product, and Western wants to see if this is something it wants to make available campus-wide.

After using the phone in his office, Craft said he predicts the trial will lend successful results in a short period of time.

“I was impressed,” he said. “We take a lot of things for granted when we’re using the telephone.”

Melky agreed and said she expects the telephones to greatly improve communication for people with visual impairments who have had to use regular telephones.

“This is only the beginning,” she said.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]