Since opening the telephone lines at noon on May 7, the Kansas Relay Center, 734 Vt., has seen its customer base nearly double and has seen an increase in business use as well.
In a recent interview, administrators of the center, which handles calls to and from speech- and hearing-impaired Kansas telephone customers, say the popularity of the service is growing.
To communicate, the speech- or hearing-impaired person types his or her part of the conversation on a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD).
A specially trained operator simultaneously receives and reads the message to the hearing person. The hearing person's spoken words are then typed back to the other party.
Hearing persons also may use the center to call a speech- or hearing-impaired person who has a TDD. The number is 1-800-766-3777.
NO EXTRA fees are charged for using the service and long-distance calls are billed at special discounted rates.
"We started off in the area of about 200 to 350 calls a day and now we're up to between 450 to 600," said Ron Bothwell, area manager. "Most of the calls are out of the Kansas City, Kan., area, especially concentrated in Olathe and Lawrence."
He said other areas originating large numbers of calls are Wichita, Topeka and Salina.
"I think what we experienced from the very first day were 96 percent of the calls were from the hearing-impaired and speech-impaired community," Bothwell said.
Now about about 25 to 30 percent of the calls are coming from the hearing community, he said.
"Eventually we'll get to about a 50-50 ratio," Bothwell.
DAVID Rosenthal, manager-operating services, said the center provides great freedom for speech- and hearing-impaired Kansas who previously had been limited to using special telephone typing devices between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Kansas customers now have 24-hour access to the service.
"For example, now we are starting to get used to calls at any time of the day and any time of the night," Rosenthal said. "People are starting to get used to having 24-hour access over the telephone."
Businesses across the state are recognizing the usefulness of the service as a means of communicating with a whole new customer segment, said Scott Ready, manager-operating services.
Before the relay center was established, there was no easy way, for example, that a hearing- or speech-impaired person could order a pizza to be delivered, Ready said.
"WE HAD the district manager from Little Ceasar's in Olathe calling to say his business has increased so much due to the relay," Ready said. "So the benefit to business owners is that they have a whole new market out there who can access them and they can access the people."
The center expects to continue to expand its operations, Ready said.
"Nationwide, there has never been a relay center that has plateaued," he said. "The only reason for a relay center to have plateaued in the past was because of restrictions placed on it due to financial restrictions. When you open up communications and access, it's just going to grow and grow and grow."
Bothwell said the relay center's volume has increased to the extent that it has had to add six people since May 7 to its special operator work force, bringing its staff to 37.
"Our projections is by the early part of '91 to double," Bothwell said.
BOTHWELL said he just recently visited the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce offices and took a tour of the city with chamber members.
"And the chamber person had stated our service was excellent and for the first time in his life he had used the center three times himself to visit with a deaf person. He was very complimentary," Bothwell said.
Bothwell said he has had several other business people comment on how well they enjoyed the center's telephone service.
"I had a fellow who is a sales person with a furniture store come over to me and he said, `I use your setup. I had a deaf person in here looking for furniture and I had the opportunity to call him at home and talk to him,'" Bothwell said. "We are getting a lot of examples like that."
THE CENTER was established by order of the Kansas Corporation Commission so that speech- and hearing-impaired citizens would have access to comprehensive telephone services.
Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. was awarded a contract to provide the services.
The operation of the relay center was designed by the KCC, the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and the state telecommunications industry through the Kansas Telecommunications Assn.
The Kansas Relay Service Inc., a free-standing, non-profit corporation, was formed to handle the financial administration of the relay center.