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City looks to phase out teletype service


The city’s phone line that utilizes a teletype device, such as this one, is being phased out in favour of an online service.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Move over teletype – online chat is here.

In a case of one technology coming in to replace another, the City of Oshawa is looking to phase out their teletype (TTY) phone line used by people with hearing trouble or other verbal disabilities.

The service, a Service Oshawa staple since 2008, rarely receives any callers, according to a city report.

Since its inception, the city claims it has had only six legitimate interactions over the TTY line, with many people dialing the number by mistake.

“It’s so rare. It’s like once a year we get a real call on it,” says Brenda Jeffs with Service Oshawa.

Although the cost of maintaining the TTY service is minimal, the online chat program has received a much larger response.

Launched in March 2014, the city has responded to 1,382 chats, an average of 115 a month.

“All the same things that people do on the phone, we’re getting a real variety through online chat,” Jeffs says.

Everything from swim schedules to garbage collection to broken streetlights have been inquired about through the chat service.

Now, the city is looking to expand the hours of the online chat, which is currently available 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, and will be paying approximately $6,000 a year for the service. The funds are slated to come from the Information Technology operating budget.

However, while the move to a new technology could be seen as opening doors for people with disabilities, the city must be careful that it actually doesn’t create barriers, says the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS).

“I do commend (the city) for offering an alternative way to communicate with their customers,” says Jo-Ann Bentley, director of programming, communication devices and accessibility consulting at CHS.

But Bentley says the city must be careful. Eliminating the TTY service could block people who either don’t own, or can’t afford, a computer, or for seniors who possibly aren’t as computer literate as the younger generations.

“I think it’s really important as technology evolves and as we implement that technology, that it doesn’t create barriers,” Bentley says.

In that way, Bentley says the more communication options available, the better.

“It’s really about providing communication options for people,” she says.