INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION – 7

As telecommunicators, you also encounter some difficulties that are more complex than those found in other jobs. One of these problems is to be of help to a deaf, hard of hearing, and/or speech impaired person. People with this handicap often wait longer to call an emergency service because they may try to solve a problem or deal with a situation on their own. This means that a longer period of time will have gone by before actual communication between the caller and the telecommunicator begins. Not only will the emotional state of the caller be already heightened, but the situation may already be more serious than what can be normally encountered with the hearing public.

Another factor may be that deaf, hard of hearing, and/or speech-impaired persons do not converse frequently outside the deaf community. Therefore, they may have difficulty understanding you and your instructions. American Sign Language and English also differ from each other in syntax and meaning. Since the telecommunicator can not elicit information by speech, all conversations have to be typed. This is a slower process than speech because typing is slower than speaking, and not everybody has the same typing speeds and capabilities.

The most often used TTY (teletypewriters) technology does not allow any interruptions or interjections. (There are some newer devices that do have this capability.) This inability to interrupt can certainly become a problem if the caller is very long-winded. Often, the necessary information is not provided and the caller must be questioned again.

TTY calls may be rare in your community, and a telecommunicator may fail to recognize it as such. Taking into consideration that it generally takes longer for the hearing-and-speech impaired community to call, confusing a TTY call with a misdialed or hang-up call can have serious consequences. As a general rule, you are probably receiving a TTY call if:

  1. You speak into the phone, but no one answers

  2. You hear beeping noises (TTY-TDD signals), when you answer the phone.

  3. You hear a recorded message saying, “Hearing impaired caller. Use TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). The person calling you is using a device with a built-in voice announcer.

If the caller is deaf, another problem arises because he/she will not know when help has arrived. It is important that telephone contact is maintained and the caller is updated as to the arrival of help or as to any changes in the situation.

You will also have to communicate with people who have difficulty hearing but are not deaf and do not utilize any of the devices. If available, the voice volume amplifier on your handset should be used. Be sure to speak slowly and clearly. Enunciate each word carefully. As the caller to repeat back to you any information that you have given in order for you to verify that he or she understood you. It is important not to let the caller hear any patronizing inflections in your voice, i.e. do not “talk down” to them.

Sometimes you receive calls where you may have trouble understanding the caller. This could be due to a medical emergency, but it could also mean that your caller has a speech impediment. Besides following your SOP directives, ask him/her to slow down and be sure to be patient with the caller. Let him/her know that you stay on the line as long as it takes in order to provide the appropriate response.

In smaller communities, it may be possible to have a listing of the deaf, hearing and/or speech impaired persons. This can certainly be of help in eliminating any confusion, but this system may not be practical in larger cities or communities.

Telecommunicators also encounter calls from persons who can not speak English clearly or can not communicate in English at all. In periods of stress, even persons who speak English as a second language may not be able to use the language. Calming them may sometimes be enough. If this does not work or is not practical, switching them to a language service, such as ATT language boards, is an option. The ATT service has people available on a twenty-four hour basis who are able to determine the native language and who can conference your call with an interpreter. Often, communities with a significant non-English speaking population have interpreters on call.

In summary, the skills that you have so far acquired should help you respond efficiently and properly to these calls. Your SOPs and training manuals also will list what your agency expects of you.

Please memorize the abbreviated terms for TTY/TDD devices listed on the left-hand side of the class website.