Using Textphones with a deaf person

This is a follow up from my previous blog about telephony and deafness.

Let’s look at issues caused by using a textphone (minicom). A textphone is NOT simply a  mobile phone with sms facility. I have a uniphone, this is a minicom that also has a voice telphone as an extra. It can be used as either a voice phone or a minicom phone:

In the early days many organisations had a separate phone line for minicom calls only. All really good, until… the people who were trained to use it moved on and new people who came in were not kept informed on how to use it. A good example is a police station who will remain nameless. I once rang their minicom number to report something and nothing came through on the screen, but I knew the phone had been picked up. I gave the handset to my (then) 14 yr old daughter and asked her what she could hear.

“oh Mummy” she said, “there’s a policeman swearing saying how the F*** do I use this thing?”………

A minicom is analogue. it will not easily work on digital systems. The local Tax office had one. I tried ringing several times a few months ago but it was always engaged. There can’t be that many deaf people ringing a minicom line thought I. So I went round in person and complained, only to find it had “been broken” for over 2 years.  I have a strong suspicion that when the office changed their systems to digital they forgot the impact of the change on the minicom line. Needless to say I am delighted to report the minicom is now working again as I tried it a couple of weeks ago. (After sending in a letter explaining this in person).

Minicoms do NOT work without access to a phone line. I have had several examples of where people have said “Use your minicom with Textrelay to contact us”.   One good example is when you have a breakdown on the motorway. Not naming names, but a cheaper breakdown service provider than the AA or RAC that allows you to have the service built into your insurance policy suggested I do so. How am I going to find a phone line where I break down to use it, and how am I going to plug it in? (a minicom needs a power source).

So remember three things about minicoms. 

1) They require another minicom at the other end to work.

This can be done by either having a dedicated number with a minicom at your business premises, or a number that can be used to by-pass the usual call centre menu using TextRelay.  Call centres and TextRelay  do NOT mix. The spoken menu comes on so fast that by the time the TextRelay operator comes into the call, the menu is nearly finished or the line has hung up. (There is a slight delay between when the call is connected and the operator can start typing what is said you see). A minicom will NOT work with a mobile phone (to the best of my knowledge) without TextRelay.

2) A minicom needs both a landline and a power source. 

Minicoms are not mobile phones. They are simply a way of communicating using text rather than voice on a phone line.

3) Taking and receiving calls from a minicom or TextRelay needs a structured format.

Remember you need to to train the hearing person at the other end, because there is an etiquette to follow.

It is nice to have a welcoming “Hello my name is ABC, you have reached XYZ business. How can I help you today Go Ahead”

The deaf person will either type or speak their message, and will always finish the sentence with “Go Ahead” or GA.

Wait until you see GA or hear “Go Ahead” before progressing.

This is because we can’t hear when you are waiting for a response from us, or vice versa. Don’t interrupt while typing or speaking a message, the message will not make sense.

When the call is finished always say so with “stop keying” or SK.

Keep your message short and to the point. As you can see from the picture, above, there are only 2 lines of readable text and deaf people do not have an auditory memory, so what we read we have to remember. It is also good practice to check now and again that either of you are understanding what is being conveyed. Many times I have had calls where someone has assumed something about what I am saying  and immediately transferred the call without checking! (I have had a 1-2 hour phone call once being passed from pillar to post trying to explain what I want, only to be sent back to the first person I contacted, which if I was hearing would have been over with in 5 minutes!)

Finally, some deaf people will type using a style of English that reflects the grammar of British Sign language. Do not assume because they do this that they are no less understanding of what they are communicating about.


Now here are some examples I have gathered (apologies if I  have repeated some stuff, but these are real life examples lifted from a discussion between several deaf people on social media of  how difficult it is to rely on telephony for running your business):

1)     Where organisations  have a minicom available, they are never manned, either because they think we don’t use them or due to turnover of staff, training in its use isn’t carried forward as a priority.

2)     Mobile phone companies have dedicated numbers to ring them with queries, we are discriminated because we have to go to the web to find the contact numbers and often have to pay for the service, which others get for free.

3)     There is a noticeable reluctance of organisations to allow a dedicated mobile sms number for people like us.

4)     Alternative methods of communication –especially email – is beset by problems relating to security under Data Protection Act, but often no web based access is provided as an alternative. How do we get in touch? And more importantly, the time taken for these “calls”  is nothing like you would get if you rang up, so many email services state they will get back to you in “x” number of days.

5)     Using Text Relay isn’t the same as using speech to communicate.  Far too many conversations break down because of the transfer of written language into speech and vice versa.  Call centre staff make assumptions about what our query is, without checking first. Patience is needed on both sides to have a successful text call.

6)     Every time I call a call centre I have to wait for the Text Relay service operator to explain how to use it.

7)     During busy times, many call centre operators hang up on us because they are apparently on a time limit for each call, there is pressure to get the message across quickly and this cannot be done when using Text Relay.

8)     When calling banks etc, a third party required will sometimes fall victim of an organisation’s Data protection policy… is yours up to date?

9)     I took up a free offer of car breakdown services from an insurance company.. so if I break down, can I have a mobile number?  No – use Text Relay… how can I find a plug and a phone line on the side of the road for my minicom?

10)  Deaf people with hearing aids who can still hear on the phone will have many problems using call centres with foreign accents.. even local ones!  Hearing aids do not help the distortion of sound caused by perceptive deafness.

11)  BSL users will use a different way of typing English in BSL word order, which will be relayed (in speech) exactly as it is, leading to confusion and misunderstanding on both sides.

12)  Being put on hold, while they check with their supervisor if they are allowed to take the Text Relay call…

13)  Call routing speaking so fast, Text relay can’t keep up, so we end up at the end waiting for an op, or even worse, we get a message to say “called party has hung up”!!

If you want to know more or would like advice and support on making your telephony systems accessible, or even other ways of communicating that do not rely on this method, do get in touch with us.

About Suzie

Mother, Wife, Teacher, Cook and Hearing dog owner. Passionate about Equality for deaf and deafblind people. Believes in communication for all and breaking down these barriers, real and perceived. Deafened.
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4 Responses to Using Textphones with a deaf person

  1. Karen says:

    I was told my minicom would also work using batteries, so you could use it if you broke down on a motorway, but to be fair I have not tried it!! (There is supposed to a section on the underside of the minicom to add batteries). Mind you, having said that, mine is a different model to yours, and I tend to text someone who can hear to phone on my behalf anyway.

    • Suzie says:

      Are you likely to keep your only minicom in the boot of the car, and keep checking the batteries are working? And where is the BT socket to plug it in? LOL 🙂

  2. Liz says:

    This is why I come to dreading using Text Relay, because although it is a lifeline for us, we have to put up with this. And we shouldn’t have to.

  3. DeafScooby says:

    Reblogged this on Stephen Grimston and commented:
    Great post by Suzie emphasises a lot what Deaf people have to put up with. Will your organisation take note??

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