Deaf Direct is a local charitable company that has worked with and for deaf and hard of hearing people since 1927. Its primary purpose is to promote responsive, professional and empowering opportunities to a diverse and unique community comprised of deaf and hard of hearing people with the goal of creating a society in which deaf and hard of hearing people enjoy equal participation and access without barriers or prejudice.
The charity offers a wide range of services to deaf and hard of hearing people, family members and carers, and professionals and other organisations across Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Oxfordshire.
Key services include access to information, booking of communication professionals such as sign language interpreters, meetings, events or training through to outreach services, advice about hearing aids, social activities and access to a network of Deaf Clubs.
Community Manager at Deaf Direct Gordon Hay explains, "We are always looking to save money but at the same time keep our technology up to date. Five years ago we had an old BT Meridian phone system that was at the end of its life and was costing us between £300 to £400 per month in maintenance charges. What we needed was a system that would be more cost-effective and because we have a mixture of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing staff, we needed additional video calling functionality that could be used to support communications using sign language. We also wanted our staff across the three sites to be more accessible and support remote communications for mobile and home-based personnel.”
After a recommendation from Deaf Direct’s IT partner, Quintech, the charity decided that a software-based unified communications from Swyx was the best fit for their requirements. Gordon Hay comments, “We have worked with Quintech for many years and they have been responsible for the installation and support of all our IT across our entire organisation – from servers and PCs through to software and Internet access. We like the fact that they provide a holistic service so when they suggested a phone system that was software-based and could offer us greater functionality and flexibility and be part of our overall IT network this made perfect sense. The fact that the system also supported video calling between staff was ideal.
As part of the charity’s communications policy it is vital that where possible sign language must be used in the presence of those that are deaf or hard of hearing. Therefore the decision to go with an Internet-based solution like Swyx was really a no-brainer, as traditional phone systems simply didn’t have the same level of functionality - this also means that we can always keep up with technology.”
Smooth installation and staff training
According to Gordon the installation took between half a day to a day and the charity went straight from the old BT system to the flexible and up-to-date-Swyx UC-solution. “Part of the smooth integration was down to Quintech. They took care of all the configuration including ‘out of office’, ‘greetings’, ‘auto attendant’ and ‘call routing’ and carried out all the end-user training.”
“At first the staff thought it was a bit strange to be using a phone via the computer and many stuck with still using the handset rather than the softphone on the screen, but as time has gone on, everyone is now using the softphone. The most loved favourite feature is the F11 function which allows staff to simply highlight a number on-screen, whether in a database or on a website and connect directly without any dialling.
Improved service, improved access, improved flexibility
Deaf Direct has thirty users of SwyxWare and up to around twenty at any one time. Staff are based across three sites at its HQ in Worcester and sister offices in Hereford and Oxford which are connected together via ISDN 30 and a VPN. In addition some staff have the ability to work from home and there is one member of staff that works full-time from their home in Lincolnshire for UK Deaf Sport (an affiliated organisation to Deaf Direct) that provides information and guidance to deaf or hard-of-hearing people who would like to participate, enjoy and excel at sport.
“SwyxWare gives us the ability to directly connect both incoming callers and internal staff, whether they are in the same office or at a different location.” Says Gordon. “The support for video calls included with Swyx means that staff that need to use British Sign Language (BSL) can simply connect via the SwyxWare based, on-screen softphone in conjunction with the webcam on their PC and their image appears on to the other person’s screen. Likewise, if a member of staff needs to ask a question of another member of staff in a different office or location, or they need someone who can sign, then they simply initiate a SwyxWare-based video call.
“Improving the communication between internal staff means in turn we can provide a better and more responsive service to incoming enquiries, whether it’s access to information, booking a course, hiring an interpreter or getting in touch with third parties such as solicitors, doctors or hospitals on behalf of deaf persons or their families.
With limited resources, the Swyx system means we can literally call on those resources regardless of where they are. For example, if the main receptionist at the Worcester office takes a call for booking a sign language interpreter and she needs to check something with another member of staff, if they are in the same building she can then call them via video, or alternatively, by wearing a wireless headset she can simply walk down the hall and ask them face-to-face. Similarly if the person she needs to liaise with is at another location, she can simply contact them using Swyx, either by video call, normal call or even by instant message. In circumstances where a member of staff doesn’t sign, and they need to converse with someone who is deaf, then they can simply ask a colleague that does, to step in front of their computer and communicate or translate on their behalf.”
On average, Deaf Direct receives between 40-60 calls per day from deaf people or family members looking for advice or access to the charity’s range of services.
Lower HR costs
Having all sites connected via SwyxWare means that the charity can also save on having a receptionist at each site. Instead all calls come into Worcester and are then re-directed according to the nature of the enquiry. All calls between sites are on the same IP network so are therefore free.
- Support for sign language based communication via the phone
- Lower costs – reduced phone bills and maintenance charges equating to thousands of pounds every year
- Choice of communications – Voice calls/Video calls, Instant Messaging, Email voice mails
- Free calls between sites and remote workers
- Support for charity’s communications strategy
- Always on the latest technology due to software upgrades
- 24 hour service – system automatically diverts to appropriate mobiles
- Lower staff costs – no need to have receptionist at each site – all calls come into Worcester and are diverted (free of charge) to other locations
- Flexible working – support for mobile and home-based staff
Future developments on the horizon are ‘full video conferencing’ between all of the charity’s different offices, remote desktop sharing, SwyxMobile (using the SwyxWare app on smartphones) and the integration of the Swyx solution with a CCTV and door entry system.
Gordon Hay sums up the benefits of Swyx to DeafDirect, "The main benefit of the Swyx solution is that it has made all our staff more accessible and we have also been able to make considerable cost-savings year on year."
On Quintech, “We have no in-house IT resource, so Quintech is invaluable to us as an organisation. Due to their in-depth knowledge they can act as a single point of contact who can advise us on how to make the most of both our IT and communications for the benefit of our staff and also to the deaf community that we serve. We hold quarterly face-to-face meetings with Quintech and they provide regular top-up training for staff. Any day to day IT support issues are dealt with promptly and the majority of these are handled remotely.