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Communicating with deaf people, from assistance to inclusion

Since 1999, in Italy started the path towards full integration for disabled people. Technology provided exceptional help along this path, together with a different approach towards people with disabilities.

06/10/2020 - 02:45 PM

 

Communicating with deaf people

There are over 1,200 people with disabilities at TIM, and almost a hundred people with sensory disabilities (deaf, blind and partially sighted people).  Sensory disabilities require special care, as the impairment of one or more senses (sight, hearing...) can substantially influence a person's full integration in the working environment.

We worked hard to ensure the professional redevelopment of our deaf colleagues, thanks especially to technology often developed in-house, as it allows to personalise communication tools according to specific needs: for oral deaf people, who read lips; for deaf people who mostly communicate with sign language...

However, the greatest innovation was introduced by Pedius, a TIM WCAP start-up in which we now have shares. Since 2019, through Pedius and in partnership with VEASYT, 50 deaf colleagues have access to two telematic tools that are essential in allowing them to communicate with managers, collaborators and colleagues:

  • A system permitting to call any phone number and to receive calls from any number, which converts text to speech and vice versa
  • A platform for LIS (Italian sign language) interpreting via video, that can be activated online at short notice.

In this way we met most daily requirements and guaranteed a good level of integration. 

Here are the thoughts of four key players

Read the interviews with deaf colleague Roberto Putignano, his hearing colleague Cosimo Cannarile, Pedius CEO Lorenzo Di Ciaccio, and VEASYT CEO Enrico Capiozzo.

Roberto and Cosimo

How did your working life change, from when you started to the present day? Has technology been helpful to you?

Roberto: My professional career has undergone many changes since I started 34 years ago. As technology developed, the company supplied us with all the best technological devices, such as smartphones, laptops with high-definition webcams, etc. Obviously, this allowed me to actively participate to video-conferences and company meetings, especially thanks to the Pedius and VEASYT services offered by TIM.

Which communication difficulties a deaf person still encounters in the workplace nowadays?

Roberto: Despite all the improvements made, there are still a few difficulties to overcome. The biggest one is managing to interpret some of the more complex terms. 
Often, this does not allow deaf people to fully understand the meaning of the overall text.

How did you start collaborating with Roberto?

Cosimo: When I started working with Roberto in the same unit, I understood the difficulties experienced by deaf people, who often felt excluded and misunderstood, both at work and outside of work.

What did you learn during your shadowing experience with deaf colleagues?

Cosimo: Roberto's perspective made me more sensitive and empathic towards deaf colleagues. This is why I started collaborating and creating projects that could break down this barrier as much as possible.

 

 

Lorenzo Di Ciaccio

Lorenzo, how was Pedius conceived? Did you have any experience of deafness?

Lorenzo: The idea was inspired by the story of Gabriele, a deaf boy who had a car accident and couldn't call the emergency services, at the time I worked as an IT consultant and it was my job to employ technology to find solutions to companies' problems. That day I decided it was time to use my knowledge to help people.
Until then, I had no idea of the difficulties that deaf people have to overcome every day; I had the chance to get to know Gabriele who, as well as teaching me a bit of sign language, helped us better understand a different, and in some ways fascinating, world.

How do you combine the business model with the social aims offered by your service?

Lorenzo: We're used to consider the services sector as split into two, profit and non profit, without realising that there might be other ways, where profit could merely be an instrument to maximise social impact. We believe that remote communication is a right for all, this is why we offer all our users 20 minutes phone calls per month, while for greater requirements it's possible to pay a nominal fee of 30 euro per year and make unlimited calls. We can offer these prices because our business relies on companies like TIM, who chose to purchase our services to make their call centres accessible and to enable all their employees to dial in and participate to conferences.
Pedius reinvests all its profits in research and development, to continuously improve the access to services for deaf people.

Who is Lorenzo Di Ciaccio, CEO Pedius: after four years as an IT consultant, Lorenzo left his job to found Pedius, a telephony service for deaf people. From 2013 to the present, Pedius enabled over 30,000 people in 14 countries to communicate over the phone. Pedius has raised about 2 million euro from private individuals. As well as working at Pedius, Lorenzo teaches business ethics at the Luiss Guido Carli University.

Enrico Capiozzo

Enrico, how can technology bridge the communication gap between deaf people and users?

Enrico: By combining the mobility potentials of 4G and 5G networks on modern smartphones and tablets with the expertise of the VEASYT interpreters' network, that operates in smartworking mode throughout Italy.
A LIS interpreter, just like and if not even more than a spoken language interpreter, must guarantee kindness and empathy when interpreting.
This is made possible by the video call technology integrated in the VEASYT platform and by the management process and linguistic assistance perfected by the company, so that the IT element almost “disappears” for the users, who feel safe and enjoy the experience.

Do you have an anecdote encapsulating the relationship with your deaf customers?

Enrico: Every single video interpreting service involves a bit of “magic”, as it enables a dialogue that would otherwise be impossible.
But during this period of health and social emergency, we like to talk about hope. Just like the hope given a few days ago to a deaf patient in sub-intensive care who, thanks to VEASYT, could communicate with the doctor and be reassured that their condition was improving. The interpreter who translated the news in LIS saw a peaceful smile appearing on the patient's face, even behind the respiratory mask. A smile of hope for the future.

Who is Enrico Capiozzo, CEO VEAST: after studying engineering in Italy and The Netherlands, in 2012 Enrico took on the challenge of combining passion and innovation with the desire of “leaving a mark” and generate positive social impact in his own country. This is the vision of social entrepreneurship that led to the creation of VEASYT, which to date has supported and continues to support communication between thousands of deaf citizens and dozens of hospitals, municipalities, institutions and companies, in order to make Italy a more innovative and accessible country.

From assistance to inclusion

All this is the result of a different approach towards people with disabilities.  

In 2001, the World Health Organization defined a new Classification of Disability, steering the focus from individuals to the contexts within which they live, which are often non-inclusive and hinder their capacity to act.

This means revising the approach towards disability: from an “assistive” approach to one that fosters the independence and autonomy of the disabled person.  In all social contexts, including the world of work.

Since 1999, in Italy, the “Regulations on the right to employment for persons with disabilities” started the path towards full integration for disabled people. Unfortunately, many mistakes were made at first, like creating direct equations such as disability = function, so that blind people were employed as switchboard operators, or deaf people or people with cognitive disabilities were assigned to operational activities. 

An approach that is fortunately changing, addressing individuals towards roles more suitable to their own overall abilities rather than to the disability.

At TIM, the first step towards changing our perspective was made in 2015, with the policy related to the adaptation of workstations for disabled people: individuals could actively ask to have their workstation ergonomically and functionally redesigned according to their needs, and the same with software/hardware equipment.

Technology provided exceptional help along this path, which includes several diversity & inclusion initiatives, and Pedius is a great example.

The goal was clearly reiterated in the 2020-2022 business plan: an increasibly “sustainable” TIM, in all its aspects, and especially in terms of the development of human capital and the promotion of diversity.  

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