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Roger and me

Whilst I am a big fan of the free BT Relay UK service for phone calls to utilities, banks, doctors and much more, I noticed that my family rarely used it to ring me. I wondered why this was, so broached the question. The answer was that they don’t find it a natural means of having a chat, given there is a third party involved, a relay assistant, typing what they are saying. There can also be a slight delay before a Relay assistant becomes available and the conversation sometimes cuts out, so more effort required rather than just clicking on a contact and having an instant conversation.

It has been frustrating for me to rely solely on WhatsApp to catch up. Whilst WhatsApp is an excellent means of staying in touch and organising meet-ups, it cannot be a substitute for a one to one chat either brief or longer. The snippets of conversation that my husband remembered to tell me following a spontaneous call from son or daughter en route home from work were missing the bits I really wanted to hear!

Then fate intervened. Whilst supporting a Hearing Link Services LinkUp weekend, I discovered the RogerVoice app. I thought it wise to find out more about Roger before committing myself, but little is available online as to how it works.

Oliver Jannel, the founder, said, “I was tired of disability technology looking so medical. Prescription glasses are made by talented designers; I wanted the same for disability apps.”

Jannel partnered with Vonage, using its SMS based user verification process to overcome the problem of call recipients getting ‘unknown’ caller message and therefore likely to hang up. Instead, they receive a CallerID. The app provides a live transcript in over 120 languages. All that is required is a smartphone, IOS or Android, and a good internet connection.

Calls are free app to app so they’re perfect for chats with family and friends. Thirty minutes of free call time was enough to allow me to experiment to see whether this new relationship was going to work.

To my delight, my son and daughter were impressed with the speed and accuracy of the speech to text and found the conversation flowed naturally. I use English as the base language but some people prefer the American English option for clarity. Both caller and recipient can see the text on app-to-app calls but for calls outside that, the recipient will not be aware that you are using an app. I must admit I was quickly smitten, given the freedom and independence Roger was giving me.

Nonetheless, I felt a slight trepidation about the next step; calls which I would normally use Relay UK for, or which I would sometimes resign myself to getting my husband to make the call. Would Roger and I move forward?

Making a phone call for someone without hearing loss is automatic and yet, for those with hearing loss, it can be a barrier to communication and stressful. I need not have worried, the calls went smoothly and it was a wonderful feeling to have taken back control thanks to Roger. Anyone with hearing loss will know how important it is to have control over one’s life for confidence and self-esteem.

It was time to make a tentative commitment. I opted for a one-hour plan costing £5.49 per month for calls in UK and abroad, rather than the unlimited plan costing £27.49 per month, which includes two hours of calls abroad. My rationale was that If I run out of minutes I can always use the top-up option to gain extra time, costing £10.99 for 2 hours

On signing up, I received a phone number to hand out as I wish, based on area code but it’s optional. Incoming calls show the Roger logo on app-to-app calls and otherwise, so it’s easy to answer and the text is immediate. At Christmas, Roger had a Santa hat on – a nice touch, I thought.

All was plain sailing until Roger’s relationship with my husband hit a difficult patch. We discovered that, when his Android phone was in standby mode, it didn’t ring on app to app calls and I received an error message ‘Calls between applications impossible’ due to either no internet connection or app disabled. My heart sank; a tech problem of this nature was unlikely to be simple to resolve.

Help, however, was on hand via the app. The response time is given as a few hours but, in my experience, they reply much sooner. As I suspected Roger could be temperamental at times and it took some days of correspondence to get to the bottom of the problem. It was simply a button on the app settings ‘remove permissions if app unused’, which needed to be turned off to prevent the phone deactivating the app. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, very grateful for the support given which was friendly, knowledgeable and keen to help.

Since then, I have been making the most of my new-found independence.  All is well between Roger and me except for one slight niggle, in that a star rating is required after each call for quality control purposes. I’ve had to accept that as, after all, no relationship is totally perfect!

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of Hearing Link Services or Hearing Dogs for Deaf People unless explicitly stated.

SylviaSylvia had a career in language teaching prior to suffering sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) over 10 years ago. Since then she has worked as a volunteer with RNID to improve communication with GP practices for patients with hearing loss and promote lipreading skills. Over the past few years, she has been a volunteer for the Hearing Link Helpdesk and written articles to raise awareness of the impact of hearing loss on everyday life.