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Dooce Overhears An Angry Deaf Person via a Relay Operator

Heather Armstrong aka dooce.com is carrying a post where she describes a relay operator conveying a deaf person being angry at the lack of captions.

It was a hate phone call. An emotional hate phone call. A hate phone call threatening to sue someone because the captions on certain Saturday evening shows haven't been working. Where is the person in charge?! They wanted to know! NOW! WHERE ARE THEY, DAMMIT! SHUT UP WITH ALL YOUR EXCUSES! I'll admit, for a second I thought I had entered some weird dimension where the comments section of this website had come alive and was now being read aloud through a telephone.

And goes onto say:

.... the caller was undeterred and viciously shouted things like, "NO! NO! NO!" and "SUE! SUE! SUE!" and even threw in a growl for good measure. When the receptionist tried politely to wind down the conversation the angry person hung up abruptly. The best part? The angry person WAS A RELAY OPERATOR, meaning this was a person hired to communicate for a deaf person.

You can read the full post here.

I know relay operators in the UK use monotone, the argument being that its too risky to translate written English into emotion. I've also used relay operators in the US and they do introduce via text e.g. "sounds happy", etc.

For the conversation Heather overheard, I have to wonder whether this was via an ASL/English Interpreter (given the amount of emotion was introduced)?

My thoughts on this post. Anger. As a stand alone situation, deaf people's anger might be deemed as excessive; yet anger comes from a bigger picture. Do we as deaf people have a responsibility to contain this more, or should we just let it out? Having asked that question, there's always going to be a limit to how much this can be done: we are human, yet I know most people out there do a damn good job at keeping a lid on it.

If Heather experienced a loss of sound via television on a regular basis, she might consider cancelling her television subscription. Or any so called level headed person, a constant tide of inaccess sees to that.

I also feel uneasy that deaf people's lack of access (as a minority group) is compared to random internet trolls; even if done for comical value. Here the two are pulled together for a short term entertainment value of a blogger. And for the record, I can see she's homing in on the skills of a relay operator here; and yes I know Heather has the habit of exaggerating for entertainment sake (I've read that blog for at least five years).

In any case, for clarification, the television company is responsible for its output, be it picture, sound or captions. A receptionist's job is the public face of such a company, and a first point of contact.

Update: I commented. My comment is no. 267. Not the best I could come up with (nor this post for that matter), but its Friday afternoon and I'm so not in the mood to explain.

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What do you think?

Comments (1)

Hi, I read your comment on Heather's page. I think it's interesting that in the UK, the operators don't convey emotion. I worked for a US relay service and we were told to convey as much emotion as possible so that the hearing person felt like they were experiencing a 'real' phone call and didn't feel like they were talking to a robot.

But you are right! This leaves room for misinterpretation of text. We also had to type things out to the hard of hearing person like (sounds happy) (sounds sad) (crying) (laughing) etc. Even if people were talking in the background, we were expected to type it out. All of it!

Anyways, I came here to say that I agree with what you said. I hate to admit that I never even thought about the deaf audience. But you are right! There should be subtitles for the momversation videos and there should be interpreters at speaking events. It's only fair.

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