KPN Teletolk records a record number of interpreted calls

Last month the KPN Teletolk, a service that converts a phone call for people with hearing loss into text or sign language, or vice versa; hit a record. In a single month, 2,890 calls were tele-interpreted and more than 20,000 minutes of call time were used – over 25% more than the year before. We asked Rob IJzerman of KPN Teletolk why tele-interpretation is so sought after.

What do you believe is behind the sharp rise in tele-interpretation?
“Thanks to the press conferences of Prime Minister Rutte and Public Health Minister Hugo de Jonge about the corona measures and developments, this country has gained another celebrity: Sign Language Interpreter Irma Sluis. We can probably all imitate her translation of Rutte’s expression ‘don’t hoard’. Using sign language, she makes the meaning of the press conferences clear to people with a hearing impairment. And now that we have to practice social distancing and work from home, we are making a lot of phone calls and it is more important than ever to stay in touch with one another. If this is not a matter of course, we need to look for solutions.”

And how can KPN Teletolk be of assistance now, in the time of corona?
“In an online meeting via Teams you can communicate easily in sign language. Talking on the phone is hard if you suffer from hearing loss but want to make an appointment with your family doctor, ask the tax authorities a question or even simply make a restaurant reservation. And it can also be difficult for family of friends to properly express their emotions and feelings from a distance. In that case it’s easier and more pleasant if you can talk with one another rather than e-mailing or sending chat or text messages.”

So how exactly does Teletolk work?
“Via KPN Teletolk people with a hearing impairment and those with a language or speech impairment can talk with hearing persons – and vice versa. With a normal phone, without video calling. An interpreter at the Berengroep call center in Bilthoven translates the spoken word into text or sign language, or vice versa.

“The Tolkcontact app that you download on your smartphone has a ‘KPN Teletolk’ button. Here you can opt to call via text or image (with sign language). Anyone can make use of the Tolkcontact app; you don’t have to be a customer of KPN. As soon as the person at the other end of the line has picked up, an employee of KPN Teletolk joins the call and the conversation can begin."

“You can choose whether to speak, type or sign. The KPN Teletolk employee translates everything into spoken language for the person at the other end of the line. Everything the called person says is translated for you into text or sign language. Conversely, hearing persons can call via KPN Teletolk as well. It’s all really easy and the person you are calling doesn’t need the app. You can call using text 24 hours per day, and in sign language every day between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.”

And why does KPN consider this important?
“KPN has been advocating inclusivity for many years. Since 1983, KPN has made it possible for people with a hearing impairment to make text relay calls, although this was enshrined in law only in 2012 after an amendment to the Telecommunications Act: everyone must have equal access to regular telephone services, including target groups for whom that is not a matter of course. Consequently, it had to be possible for people with a hearing impairment not only to make text relay calls but also in sign language. Since 2013 this has been possible via KPN Teletolk, with interpreters translating phone calls into text and image.”

Any questions or more information?
You can find more information about KPN Teletolk on the revamped website: https://www.kpnteletolk.nl/. This also features user stories and frequently asked questions and you can register there to use the service.