AT&T, Dallas, is offering AT&T Real Time IM, which provides more than 31 million people with hearing and speech loss, nationwide, a more immediate way to communicate with standard telephone users, says the company.
Users log in to a specialized AOL IM (AIM) interface that works with an Internet connection on a PC and on many wireless devices. A specially-trained relay operator reads IMs to hearing callers and types IMs that are displayed–in real time–to the end user. The new service is offered at no additional charge to customers who register with AT&T Relay Services. With the new real-time IM feature, instead of waiting for the relay operator to type a full phrase or sentence, IM users can see the text messages they are receiving, word-by-word as they are typed, making conversations feel more like calls experienced by hearing customers.
"To hearing users, this may sound like a trivial enhancement," said Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc (TDI). "But for many callers with hearing or speech disabilities, this creates a wireless and online communications experience that is much closer to what hearing people encounter when talking with others on the phone. TDI applauds such collaboration between industry players that results in greater functional equivalency for deaf and hard of hearing consumers."
TDI recently honored AT&T with the 2009 James C. Marsters Promotion Award for providing innovative products and services that address the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
To access the service, using an Internet connection and an AIM account, AT&T IM Relay users can IM the phone number they’re calling to the screen name "attrelay." AT&T IM Relay customers are assigned a typical 10-digit phone number, like any other wireless or landline customer, that others can use to contact them.
"It’s great to see AT&T leading the way as the first IM Relay provider to offer real time services," said Senior Vice President, Global Messaging, David Liu, AOL. "This generates added value for customers who rely on the service to keep them connected with friends, family, and business contacts. And, it means that conversations flow more naturally, and move more quickly for the parties on both sides of the conversation."
Launched in early 2009, AT&T IM Relay is one of three calling services offered to customers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability. AT&T Video Relay Service (VRS), offered since 2003, uses a high-speed Internet connection and a Web camera or video phone to connect users via a Video Interpreter. This allows users to experience facial expressions and gestures on both ends of the conversation and provides a natural fit for the use of sign language. AT&T TTY Relay Service, offered since 1987, uses a special device that connects to a standard phone line and includes a keyboard and screen to display messages. It relies on a Communication Assistant to connect calls to standard voice users.
"At AT&T, we know that people with disabilities rely on our services to empower them and help them live independently," said Susan A. Johnson, senior vice president, customer information services, AT&T. "Going back as far as Alexander Graham Bell, we have focused on this, and we continue to innovate these specialized services as part of that vast legacy. We care about providing a valuable customer experience, and we hope that the customers using this new service–and the many others we offer–know that it’s a big part of who we are and what we do as a communications provider.