GSA seeking telecom services for the hearing impaired

The General Services Administration is recompeting its Federal Relay Services contract, a vehicle for agencies to procure telecommunications services for the deaf and hard of hearing and for people with speech disabilities.

Sprint holds the contract, but its term is nearing expiration. GSA expects to award the follow-on contract in November. At the heart of the service is a group of interpreters who receive the communication from users with disabilities and relay it to the other individual on the call, and vice versa. However, the technology through which that is accomplished is advancing, said Kathy Kemerer, branch chief of quality assurance and lead for the Federal Relay Services at GSA. "We started out with just text where individuals used the old TTY [text telephone] devices and the interpreter would turn around and speak," she said. "We've evolved into more advanced applications, such as video relay." Callers now can use sign language over the video link, which the interpreters pass on using spoken words. Other technologies, including text messaging, will be part of the new Federal Relay Services contract, she said. "We want to see at a minimum the current technologies we have available. We have a provision in the contract that, as new technologies are matured, we'll add them to the contract."

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