The Pocket Interpreter for Deaf People Using Sign Language
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The Pocket Interpreter is a part of the video relay service in Sweden. It is a national communication service that makes it possible for deaf people using sign language to communicate with hearing people. Either person can free of charge call the service which is manned by several sign language interpreters located in different studios geographically spread around Sweden. The users can get a relay phone call or a distance interpretation. In the latter case both users are in the same place and the interpreter is present via a videophone. A 3G-phone with video capabilities is frequently used for this. The service is only in Swedish.
The Pocket Interpreter is a part of the video relay service in Sweden. It is a national communication service that makes it possible for deaf people using sign language to communicate with hearing people. Either person can free of charge call the service which is manned by several sign language interpreters located in different studios geographically spread around Sweden. The users can get a relay phone call or a distance interpretation. In the latter case both users are in the same place and the interpreter is present via a videophone. A 3G-phone with video capabilities is frequently used for this. The service is only available in Swedish language.
In Sweden electronic communications are regulated by the Electronic Communications Act (2003:389) that entered into force the 25th of July 2003. According to section 1 of the first chapter the Act aims at ensuring that private individuals, legal entities and public authorities shall have access to secure and efficient electronic communications with the greatest possible benefit regarding the range of electronic communications services, their price and quality. That means that all users, including disabled users, by the regulation in the Act in terms of choice, price and quality, shall derive maximum benefit by having varied, effective and secure communication services.
The National Post & Telecom Agency (Post- och telestyrelsen, PTS) has, according to governmental regulations and decisions, an assignment to, through procurement, ensure that the special needs of people with disabilities are satisfied. The Government grants an allowance for this purpose every year to PTS. No obligations are presently in use for any of the services that PTS procure for different groups of disabled people. The experience in Sweden is that procurement of services for disabled people ensures maximum benefit from electronic communications services when specific services are needed.
The user can call the service in several different ways and via different networks. The technical platform allows calls to and from ordinary voice phones and different video phones such as 3G phones; Internet based video phones, ISDN video phones and PSTN.
All calls are handled in the same platform and in the same manner. The studios with the interpreters are connected via secure connections over the Internet and use ordinary IP technology.
The major benefit for the users is the increased availability to interpreter services. There is a shortage of sign language interpreters and you have to book them well in advance, something that demands detailed planning and reduces flexibility and spontaneity. With the Pocket Interpreter, for example, if you want to book an appointment at the dentist or if you meet a friend on the street you can talk to him or her via your 3G phone: you just make a video call to the service and the interpreter is present.
Since the new IP platform was launched in February 2006 the use of the service has grown rapidly. Each month the service now handle almost twice as many calls than the number of calls made in total for the previous year. The number of studios and resources needed has also increased, but not in the same way. This indicates a much more efficient use of interpreters.
Interpreters are located in different places in Sweden, what makes it possible to handle many calls without draining the resources locally.
During 2006 more than 43,000 calls were made. For 2007 this figure will probably exceed 100,000 calls. The number of users has grown rapidly, from a few hundred at the beginning of 2006 to approx 2,000 presently. For comparison, the number of deaf sign users in Sweden is approx. 10,000.
All calls to the service are handled in a call centre solution where the user automatically is forwarded to an available sign language interpreter. The interpreters sit in a studio with different locations in Sweden. During peak hours seven studios are active, but there are a total of 10 studios presently. To handle the expected increase of incoming calls, the number of studios will grow. The interpreters work for publicly held interpreter centres or privately owned interpreter companies.
The major benefits are the increased availability to an interpreter service and the efficient use of interpreters.
The service is unique in the world, and free of charge for the user.
The Pocket Interpreter has been introduced nationally and internationally on several occations. It was a finalist at the Guldlänken competition and has also won a price at the Mobilgala in Sweden.
How is this managed and what is the effect?
The service is procured by PTS, the national Post and Telecom Agency in Sweden, with governmental funding. The current supplier is the Interpreter Centre at Örebro City Council. Other interpreter centres and interpreter companies work as subcontractors in the service.
The providers point to the following "lessons learnt":
Lesson 1 - The service has made a huge impact for the user group and has made it possible for sign users and hearing people to communicate in an easy accessible way.
Lesson 2 - The use of interpreters is much more efficient.
Lesson 3 - The solution can easily be adopted for other call centre operations. Medical, customs and police institutions in Sweden have all shown interest in the technical and operational solution used in the service.