“Alternative telephony using new technology” is a project looking for ways of improving distance communication for people with severe speech- or hearing disabilities. Technicians and consultants from the Assistive Technology department at the County Council of Västerbotten have explored how consumer products can be used and adapted, mainly free video call programs such as Skype, Tango Video Calls, Jitsi and Windows Live Messenger.
The project was funded by the Swedish
of Assistive Technology
Professionals working in the fields of speech, hearing and vision were linked to the project.
Nine subjects with various disabilities and twelve relatives have tried video calls in different hardware: smart phones, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. All families owned some kind of hardware which could be used for video calls. Four of the subjects were provided with tablets to give the project more experience with new technology.
Video calling is a direct way of interacting using objects, signs, symbols, facial expressions and natural signals. Most subjects enjoyed video calling, but some preferred voice phone, SMS or email. Video calling was used to a lesser degree than expected, at most once a week. One main problem was slow Internet connection.
Methodology and interfaces need to be developed to facilitate the use of AAC in distance communication and to enable partner provided support, inspired by methods such as Written Choice Strategy, Supported Conversation for Adults or Aided Language Stimulation.
Video calling with consumer programs is not yet equivalent to telephony, it is not used by public community, it only works between people using the same program and demands a better connection than voice calling.
The programs which were tested neither give access to SOS Alarm nor interpretation services (from text to speech, from sign language to speech or “Teletal” for unclear speech).
However, video calling with consumer products is a cheap and simple way to socialize and information and adaptations should be offered to people with speech- or hearing disabilities.
A hindering factor is that adults in Västerbotten with speech- and language difficulties only have access to speech therapists in hospitals, not in home settings.
When text telephone and telefax were the main tools for “alternative telephony”, only a narrow (writing) group of users were addressed. Now there are technical solutions for people with more complex needs, which increases the demand for prescribers and therefore the need for methods and technology support from consultants and technicians of assistive technology.