In January 2017, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) hosted a demonstration of the features of the Caribbean Video Assistance Service (CVAS), which enables the Deaf to communicate directly via the free Personal Universal Communicator (PUC) app, with hearing and other deaf persons using smart devices. The service, which also provides sight assistance for the blind, has the potential to revolutionise the way in which people with disabilities (PWDs) communicate with each other and hearing and sighted people. The CTU is now close to implementing the CVAS for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
The CVAS is a collaboration between the CTU and VTCSecure that uses a technological platform to facilitate communication, without expensive equipment, via an individual’s smart phone, computer or wireless device from virtually anywhere. VTCSecure is a global company that provides secure On-Demand, Video, Voice & Text Call Centre Services.
As highlighted at the demonstration, this initiative requires the involvement and support from people with disabilities and the organisations that serve them, Governments, Network Operators, Regulators and corporate citizens. Sign Language interpreters are needed to work as on-line agents, PWDs will be required to test the service, and VTCSecure will provide the Secure On-Demand Video Enablement Solution (SOLVES) platform to work ideally with a network operator to test and commission SIP trunks, which the operator provides. A SIP trunk enables SOLVES to connect to landline telephone numbers, an important part of allowing Deaf or hard of hearing persons access to the hearing.
The CTU has approached a number of organisations to collaborate on the implementation of the CVAS. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) has expressed keen interest in partnering with the CTU on this project, which dovetails with their proposed universal service initiative to provide assistive technologies to PWDs. The goal of TATT’s project is to promote digital inclusion in Trinidad and Tobago by ensuring that low-income PWDs have access to affordable mobile devices with assistive features.
The CTU has also engaged in discussions with Mr. Phil Edwards, CEO, of the Tobago Information Technology Limited (TITL) and his team to explore the use of their call centre services to support the CVAS. TITL currently operates the 211 Contact Centre that has been set up within the Information Technology Centre, Division of Finance and the Economy in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA). It provides information on government services in Trinidad and Tobago and 24-hour access to emergency services in Tobago. TITL is also a significant player in Tobago in times of disaster.
Further, the CTU is liaising with CANTO to have one of its network operator members to provide the SIP Trunk to facilitate calls to the centre as well as other services. Sign language agents have already been identified who will volunteer as interpreters for the three month Pilot.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that PWDs have equal access to services, which is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory. CVAS will go a long way to help Trinidad and Tobago to live up to that commitment and thereby help enhance the quality of the lives of PWDs.