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The phone is still the most commonly used communication device,
whether it is to get in touch with an individual, an employee
within an organisation, or a call centre environment.
It is therefore essential that an organisation’s telephone
system is accessible to anyone who may need it, including external
clients, suppliers, partners, as well as internal employees.
Amongst these users will be people with a variety of disabilities
that will make access to standard PBX functions difficult or
Avaya provides a PBX with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)
technology. The importance of this technology, as far as this
article is concerned, is that PCs and other intelligent devices can
be plugged in to the same socket as a handset. This means that the
PC can be programmed to act like a handset so that it can replace
the handset or be synchronised with one. This offers a variety of
opportunities for assistive technology solutions.
Avaya supplies PBXs with a variety of functions and features
that improve accessibility. These can best be explained by looking
at each disability in turn.
Profoundly deaf people obviously need an alternative to
listening to speech. In many cases their speech is difficult to
understand so they need an alternative method of input (see speech
The preferred solution for many of the deaf community is sign
language; this requires a video link and suitable videophones. At
present this is most commonly over a land line but there are now
some prototypes using 3G and broadband technologies. Avaya
- videohones from its partner Polycom.
- USB cameras connected to a PC.
- Third party 3G to SIP Gateways, such as Dilithium.
This means that deaf employees can easily communicate with each
other; but just as importantly it enables a company to offer sign
language to clients and partners at very little cost.
However, the most common method for phone communication for the
deaf is text. There are several technologies that the deaf
community uses for text transmission:
- Teletype (TTY used in the US) and text-phone (often known by
the brand name Minicom used in Europe) used over standard line
lines; these devices enable a conversation within one telephone
call but require either specialised hardware at each end or some
software to emulate the hardware at the PBX.
Avaya fully supports TTY with single calls including text in both
directions as well as text in one direction and voice in the other
(this option supports people who cannot hear well but can speak
clearly). Avaya also supports TTY for voicemail so that a single
voicemail box can accept and process ordinary voice and TTY
messages. Avaya intends to extend the support to text-phones.
- SMS on mobile phones is very popular as it uses standard
technology, is mobile and does not require the deaf user to have
any special technology; it does have the disadvantage that is not
conversational, any conversation has to be made up with independent
Avaya treats SMS as a channel and based on the content can route
the message to a queue for the most relevant agent. The agent can
deal with the message and compose a response on their PC which can
then be routed back to the client’s mobile handset.
For people who use a hearing aid all Avaya headsets are hearing
aid compatible and the message waiting signal flashes whilst
Some users have speech impediments, which make it difficult or
impossible for them to speak over the phone. These users need to be
able to send text whilst being able to receive voice. Avaya can
send text as-is, or can convert it into synthetic voice (using a
3rd party such as Nuance), depending on the preference of the
Modern telephone systems provide a significant amount of
information in visual format such as information about lines busy,
incoming callers, calls waiting and messages waiting. This
information will not be available to people with vision
Avaya provides the Universal Access Phone Status which runs on a
connected PC and will vocalise the status of a related handset, so
a blind operator can hear the status of the handset, whilst using
the functions of the handset.
Avaya also provides an IP Softphone solution that provides a PC
GUI that provides the same function as a physical handset. The
interface can either be a picture of a phone, or a call bar view.
The interface integrates with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and
other contact information. This standard function was designed for
the mobile user but has significant benefits for vision impaired
users, firstly being able to automatically dial from a contact list
is significantly better than having to dial whilst listening to a
vocalisation of the contact; secondly the user interface can be
combined with commercial screen magnification software so users
with limited vision can magnify the Softphone interface, in the
same way that they magnify all other applications on their PC.
There are many physical disabilities that may make it difficult
to use a standard handset; these include Parkinson’s disease, RSI,
strokes or loss of limbs.
Avaya Softphone is a standard GUI and therefore can be
controlled by specialist input devices such as eye-gaze systems,
voice activation or a foot mouse.
Avaya UCC Speech Access product was designed for highly mobile
users in mind so that they could check e-mails, calendar
appointments, tasks etc. on the move, however it also provides an
excellent interface for motor impaired users as it is tuned to the
task of controlling a telephone by voice activation.
Reading difficulties, such as dyslexia, can hinder both
understanding of content and the entry of information. Information,
instructions and help must be clear, simple to understand and
consistent. Avaya has not developed any specific solutions for this
community but the generally high design quality ensures the ease of
use of the products and the voice input and output capabilities
should provide solutions for most users.
Although foreign language is not a disability it can create an
accessibility barrier, so Avaya offers text and voice information
in multiple languages.
Avaya solutions provide a variety of assistive technologies that
ensure that the PBX is accessible to the widest possible community.
It enables the enterprise to employ people with disabilities in a
variety of roles and communicate with clients and partners in a
variety of ways that would not be possible with older PBXs.