Untapped Resource Speech Relay Service Remains Underutilized Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   May 01, 2002
Untapped Resource
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Hearing Disorders / Augmentative & Alternative Communication / Special Populations / Genetic & Congenital Disorders / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   May 01, 2002
Untapped Resource
The ASHA Leader, May 2002, Vol. 7, 1-13. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.07102002.1
The ASHA Leader, May 2002, Vol. 7, 1-13. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.07102002.1
Just over a year ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented a requirement for relay services across the United States to provide Speech to Speech (STS) relay. Today, the service remains widely underutilized. Speech-language pathologists can play a pivotal role in assisting clients with speech disorders to take advantage of this service, which will enable them to make telephone calls independently, using their own voice or an augmentative communication device.
STS is part of an extensive Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) that is available to people with hearing and speech disorders at no charge 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands were required to provide STS relay beginning March 1, 2001.
To make an STS call, a person with a speech disability calls their state relay service to access an operator, or communication assistant, who is specially trained to recognize the speech patterns of people who have mild-to-moderate speech disorders. The communication assistant makes the call and re-voices, or relays, word-for-word what the caller says to the called party. At no time does the communication assistant participate in the call. People without speech disorders can use the service to call someone with one, and STS can also be used in conjunction with other types of relay calls, such as voice carry over (VCO) in which individuals speak for themselves, but the called party’s words appear as text on a text telephone device (TTY).
STS can be particularly helpful for individuals who have speech disabilities resulting from Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, or muscular dystrophy. STS also can help those who stutter or who have had a laryngectomy, as well as those who use speech synthesizers.
Bob Segalman, founder of STS relay and a member of ASHA’s Council for Clinical Specialty Recognition, estimated that about one-third of those with a speech disorder—or nearly 1 million Americans—have the hearing, cognitive, and social skills to use STS. Of that number, about 500,000 would be willing to use STS if they received the training to do so. But only 500 of the 500,000 potential users currently use STS.
The number of people who can benefit from STS may be far greater when other populations are considered, noted Katherine Keller, who consults for STS Outreach and publishes a Web site devoted to STS. “People who are hard of hearing or deaf whose speech is not readily understood can use STS with VCO—and some do,” Keller said. “There is also a ‘rolling population’ of people recovering from stroke and brain injury who may need to use STS for a few months until their speech is improved.”
SLPs can help clients overcome psychological barriers to using STS, Segalman said. Traditional outreach methods may not work because potential users do not know each other and are not available in groups, so spreading information through word-of-mouth or group training is ineffective. Many potential users have never used the telephone and may have a reluctance to try, out of a fear of failure and the experience of rejection. Family members may resist STS use because they are accustomed to making telephone calls for their relative.
“STS grew out of my attempts to be understood over the telephone despite a speech disability due to cerebral palsy,” Segalman said. In 1990, as chair of California’s relay advisory committee, Segalman developed the idea for STS when he discovered that he could use the voice line of the relay service to call other committee members who were deaf. He launched a one-man mission to establish STS service, first lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission and then taking his advocacy to the FCC where he helped write the federal regulations for STS.
“STS dramatically increased my independence on the telephone,” Segalman said. “My wife used to make all my calls for me, and my use of STS was good for our marriage.”
To find out more about STS, visit the FCC Disabilities Rights Office Web page at www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/trs.html or the STSnews Web site at http://www.stsnews.com/. Segalman is gathering support letters to insure that every state implements an STS Outreach Service. For more information, contact him by email at bsegalma@dor.ca.gov. STS will exhibit at the ASHA Convention.
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May 2002
Volume 7, Issue 10