Making Your Meeting Places Audibly Accessible

Is your company AODA Compliant?

Different real time communications technologies, (audio, video, content, and interactive whiteboarding), can be combined in unique ways to suit each collaborative situation. A collaborative session is like a spinning top made of varying amounts of each of these four technologies. The tops may be different shapes and sizes, each top suiting the needs of the participants in the collaborative meeting, but the point of the top is always the audio technology. If there is no audio, there is no real time collaboration session – the top will not spin.

Audio technology is often taken for granted. Even though it is the most fundamental of the conferencing technologies it often gets the least focus. Audio technology has been compromised ever since mobile phone technology has become ubiquitous and more prevalent than landlines. Why? Because a mobile phone call gets packed into an 8kbps call.

A digital music file compressed into 128 kpbs sounds pretty good, however, at 64 kbps the fidelity drops off significantly and a 32 kbps song is hardly worth listening to.  An 8kbps voice call, which people have become accustomed to, does not provide good audio quality.

Why do we put up with this inferior audio quality?  For the convenience that the mobile phone gives us.  We sacrifice a lot of audio quality for mobile convenience, but good audio in a conference call is fundamental. It is often the difference between communicating and not communicating.

You can get the right technology to make the audio portion of your conferencing better, so people can hear what is being said properly – better communication.

Hearing Impairment

listentech-theater_42Our world can be challenging for the hearing impaired. According to the Canadian Hearing Society, hearing loss is becoming more and more prevalent:

  • Nearly 1 out of every 4 adult Canadians reports having some hearing loss
  • Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older adults and the most widespread disability. Its prevalence rises with age – 46% of people aged 45 to 87 have hearing loss
  • Aging is the number one cause of hearing loss and the incidence of hearing loss is poised to climb dramatically as our population ages

You can get the right technology to make the audio portion of your meeting places better, so hearing impaired people can hear what is being said properly – accessible communication.

Legally, you don’t have a choice.

Equip your Organization with the Necessary Formats for Accessible Communication

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) recognizes the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario and aims to implement and enforce standards to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. This includes providing tools necessary for persons with hearing disabilities to be able to attend and/or participate when in an assembly area.

The 2012 International Building Code states, “Each assembly area where audile communications are integral to the use of the space shall have an assistive listening system.”

An assembly area is defined as any space where people gather, whether it’s a boardroom, a banquet hall, or a classroom.

When the AODA was passed its goal was to make Ontario a more accessible province to all people with disabilities by 2025. As part of this act every obligated organization will be required to provide accessible formats of communication to persons with disabilities upon request.

So what does this mean for your company?

First, you must determine by what date your company must be AODA compliant.

Affected Organization Compliance Dates
Government of Ontario and Legislative Assembly January 1st, 2014
Designated public sector organizations with 50+ employees January 1st, 2015
Designated public sector organizations with 1-49 employees January 1st, 2016
Private and not-for-profit organizations with 50+ employees January 1st, 2016
Private and not-for-profit organizations with 1-49 employees January 1st, 2017

 

At this point the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly must already be AODA compliant as well as designated public sector organizations with 50+ employees. As stated in the table above designated public sector organizations with 1-49 employees will be the next group that must get up to date with their accessibility provisions and lastly private and non-profit organizations.

Assistive Listening Systems or Devices help to reduce background noise and compensate for distance from the sound source and are specifically of great value to persons of varying degrees of hearing loss when present in a space of assembly, be it a government institution (i.e. courtroom) or an organization’s conference room.

ET Group offers the ListenRF, ListenIR, ListenLoop and ListenWiFi systems that provide the flexibility for any person to adapt to a wide range of meetings.

The ListenRF system is great for large and small boardrooms. It is on an FM frequency and allows anyone with a receiver tuned to that frequency within a certain distance to connect to the transmitter.

On the other hand the ListenIR system is most effective for closed spaces where private conversations are held such as courtrooms and private boardrooms. With the ListenIR system only receivers that are in the line of sight of the transmitter will connect so that no one outside the room with a receiver will be able to hear what is being said.

The ListenLoop is a great system for stadiums, schools, auditoriums, places of worship and other place where large groups of people gather. With the ListenLoop you create a virtual boundary where anyone with existing hearing aids that support T-Coil technology will be able to connect.

Lastly the ListenWiFi provides you with all the same benefits of the ListenRF system but it is more secure and can host more channels.

Having an Assistive Listening System may be the law but it is also the right thing to do. Make sure that anyone and everyone that comes to your assembly areas are given the opportunity to have the best experience possible.

Contact the ET Group today to find out which assistive listening system would be best for your organization.

Click the button below to check out the Assisted Listening options that ET Group has available and find out which system will work best for you.

Assisted Listening Systems

Collaboration is an Investment that has a Compound Return

Accelerating Workflow in the Justice Collaborative Ecosystem

In two of my recent blogs, I wrote about how the ecosystems of Healthcare and Higher Ed are being transformed by technology. The Healthcare example was about applying technology tools to creatively transform the way a specific part of healthcare works. In the Higher Ed example, new technologies are being applied in bits and pieces throughout the ecosystem, which will eventually transform how the Higher Education model will work.

These are both examples of an ecosystem that has been transformed to be more collaborative where timeframes are compressed and the richness of communication is greatly increased. One is a purposeful restructuring of part of an ecosystem; the other is an erosion and reformation of an ecosystem.

Technology is changing how all industries and the ecosystems that they are a part of, work. An organization can choose the degree to which they will embrace the purposeful evolution of their ecosystem. The organizations with the strongest embrace will lead the innovation of their industry. Modern day innovation is the domain of teams of highly collaborative people versus the great insight of an individual innovator

To accelerate collaboration in your organization, to purposefully restructure the “how”, use the 5 Guiding Principles for Accelerated Collaboration:

  1. Shift to “real time” communication
  2. Build “rich” communication experiences between people
  3. Target high ROI collaboration benefits
  4. Compress process timeframes
  5. Small teams

See this blog for details on the 5 Guiding Principles

Technology tools enable these five principles. Let’s look at how applying them to the Justice ecosystem can help transform it.

The Justice Collaborative Ecosystem

The Justice ecosystem is a complex system that has evolved over hundreds of years hand-in-hand with the development of society itself. It is the “Law & Order” part of our society.  Is it possible to apply new communications tools to realize drastic economic benefits?

From the “5 Principles” blog, there are 3 broad categories for improving communication:

  1. Training
  2. Process improvement
  3. Technology – better communications tools

All three categories can make communication better, but only technology can transcend its category and affect the other two categories by enabling better processes and more cost effective training. This is especially true in more traditional organizations where the processes are hardened and training is already well ingrained into the culture of the organization

Depositphotos_52994355_mThe Justice system is a traditional ecosystem with hardened processes (laws are about as hardened a process as you can get) and well established training initiatives.

The Justice ecosystem, in a simplified view, has four different components to it: Judicial, Law enforcement, Legal and Corrections.

In this ecosystem of organizations, the opportunity to make communication better lies in the application of technology, precisely because the processes are hardened and the training is well ingrained into the current culture.

With this backdrop of concepts let’s see how the three categories of ROI – Operational Savings, Productivity Improvements, and Strategic Transformation – can be applied to the Justice Ecosystem, to transform it with collaborative technology and compound the initial ROI business case.

Remand Appearances

Remanded inmates are individuals who do not qualify for bail and who instead are being held in pre-detention facilities, waiting to have their trial. When they are required to appear in front of a judge it is called a Remand Appearance. Remand Appearances require a lot of people and activity to hold. Accused individuals typically need to spend a whole day being moved from the detention facility to the courtroom and then back. This requires accompanying guards (at least 2, sometimes up to 4), specialized vehicles for transport, all the costs of being away from the facility for the day – food, gas, etc, facilities at the courthouse to hold the prisoners until it is time for their hearing, and the risk of moving prisoners around is inherent in the undertaking.

Operational Savings

The lowest hanging fruit in any ecosystem are operational savings. Operational savings are when you either stop doing something you used to do, or do it differently in a way that allows you get the same result but with less cost.

This chart from Statistics Canada shows that Remand Custody has increased significantly in Canada since 2000:

remand custody

Applying video conferencing technology to facilitate Remand Appearances is a perfect example of how substantial cost can be taken out of the ecosystem, maintaining the same end result.

The Operational Savings = Cost avoided / Cost of video conferencing technology

I couldn’t find actual costs for all the components involved, but here is an estimate of the cost that could be avoided.

Costs Avoided
1)    Guards (avg of 3) for a day = 3 x 8 hours x Burdened hourly rate of Guards = 3 x 8 x $50 = $1,200 day
2)    Cost of transportation – specialized vehicle + expenses = $750 / day
3)    Facilities requirements to handle prisoners in courthouse = $300/day

So one Remand appearance is probably costing taxpayers about $2,000. Multiplied by the number of appearances in a year that could be delivered via technology ~ 14,000 x $2,000 = $28,000,000 / year. Over a 10-year period, that is $280,000,000. Even if my estimate for the cost of one Remand Appearance is high by 50% there is still significant opportunity to realize operational savings.

Estimating the cost of the technology is difficult to do in this blog, because there are a lot of variables, but investing in the infrastructure required to facilitate these hearings would be significantly less than the 10-year cost of doing it without technology. One of the key investments in this process is the technology in the courtroom that allows the Remand Appearances to be conducted remotely.

In any organizational ecosystem there are always rooms where people from different parts of the ecosystem come together to meet. In the judicial system, these are the courtrooms in the various courthouses across the country.

A courtroom is where the 4 different constituents (Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement and Corrections) come together to conduct their trials and is the focal point for moving the judicial process forward. To enable new communications tools to change the processes, the courtrooms must be equipped with the technology required to conduct the electronic communication, which are rich experiences – just like being there. To get the maximum benefit from the courtroom technology investment the 5 Principles referenced above must be used as a guide.

Productivity Improvements

Courtrooms that have been enabled in this way can now be much more productive in processing the courtroom workflow – the proceedings.   A Judge in court can hold Remand Appearances sequentially, connecting with prisoners who appear, via video, from various correctional facilities – one after another. The physical scheduling and logistics that used to be a key component of the old way of doing it, suddenly becomes vastly simpler and less costly.

The simplified scheduling and logistics of Remand Appearances through the use of video conferencing technology would also increase the processing of Remand Appearances in the system. The beneficial results of doing this:

  • Less facilities required for Remand prisoners (see graph earlier) – less time required in Remand facilities
  • Greater use of Judge’s time, as well as other court personnel, and their ability to handle cases (therefore less Judges and court personnel are required)
  • Less backlog of cases to be heard

Clearly these productivity improvements, which were not planned for as part of the operational savings business case, would likely add even more financial benefits to the business case. Often, the productivity benefits that are realized in an ecosystem will quickly out weigh the operational savings provided.

Courtroom Technology

Law Flat IconsThe courtroom technology must be designed and deployed in a way that is both powerful in capability and is easy to use. People in the courtroom and remote participants must be able to see and hear as if they were all in the courtroom.

Communication technology in the courtroom, which provides a rich experience and is easy to use with no set up required, will greatly accelerate the velocity of workflow (collaboration) in the courtroom.

When the capabilities of the technology are not fully appreciated, people will try to cut corners to save money. But if cutbacks compromise the experience or slows down the velocity of workflow, you are simply transferring the cost saved up front, onto the users of the system for the lifetime of the use of the technology. And when the benefits are significant, up front cost savings, which compromise the velocity of workflow or the richness of experience, are a bad idea.

Why? Because they can inhibit you from realizing all the potential benefits. Saving money in implementation transfers the costs to ongoing operations, which will far outweigh any upfront saved dollars. This does not mean you should spend as much money as possible on your technology investment. A prudent courtroom design that meets the following criteria will work:

  1. Easily replicable: A standard technology platform that can be deployed at the Town, City, Province/State, or Country level. It must be able to be deployed en masse
  2. BYOD (bring your own device) Support: It must be ready to allow connection to any laptop or mobile device via analog or digital connection
  3. Digital Audio: It must support digital audio, have RF immune microphones, a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) with tuned audio signals for the purpose of clean, intelligible audio court recordings
  4. User Adoption: It is critical that the individual user, which could be a different person each day or each hour, have the ability to operate the court technology to its greatest potential.  The technology should be a part of the room and not require set up.

Once the initial building blocks of the technology are in place, there are a number of places it can expand to further accelerate the velocity of collaboration in the ecosystem.

The opportunity for greater productivity in the Justice Ecosystem can be found in many other processes. Many jurisdictions have learned that leveraging video can reduce — or eliminate — many of the hidden delays and costs of the Justice system associated with logistics such as travel time for a variety of participants including witnesses, interpreters, attorneys and inmates. In an ecosystem where everyone wants to talk to the inmate (prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, Judges, etc.) easier access via video can accelerate workflow.

  • Judges can hold sessions across a wide variety of locations one after the other all from the courtroom or chambers
  • Cases get processed faster – no delay waiting for critical mass of cases in remote locations
  • Bail hearings can be enabled by video
  • Plea bargains can be implemented much faster (don’t need a 2 hour process to get into the jail to see prisoner), which means less time in jail for visitors, which means less requirement for facilities
  • Video testimony – Expert witness (can greatly reduce cost),
  • Vulnerable witness – appearing in court is dangerous, disrupting and disturbing but their testimony can be critical, video makes it easier
  • Interpreters – can handle multiple sessions just minutes apart in different locations. Therefore overall need goes down because of the tremendous compression of time.
  • Telemedicine in prisons
  • Visitation

An example of what I am talking about is LA County, which has enabled video conversations with inmates. An average of 2,500 conversations per month has translated into savings of $3.7 million in time and cost per year.

Making the ecosystem more productive has tremendous benefits but the biggest payoff comes when the ecosystem takes the next step of capturing strategic ROI further compounding the collaborative investment.

Strategic Transformation

As the new communications infrastructure and endpoints are put in place, the Justice ecosystem is being unintentionally transformed with far greater capability than was initially envisioned. The people who are using the new communications tools will start to apply the same tools to situations that were never envisioned at the start of the ecosystem’s transformation.

Let’s look at three real life examples of strategic transformation in the Justice ecosystem:

1) International Trials

With the globalization of business, there are now occasions where the globalization of court communications could greatly help the operation and productivity of trials that happen where multiple countries are involved. Our company, ET Group, facilitated a trial like this where two courtrooms, in two different countries were in a single combined session, at exactly the same time. I will write a blog with the details in the near future, but the benefits were tremendous.

  • Air travel was substantially reduced
  • Unproductive lawyer’s time for all that travel was eliminated
  • The proceedings were able to progress faster because both courtrooms in both countries were connected to each other in real time.

One court session brought together two different jurisdictions simultaneously.

Very powerful!

ThinkstockPhotos-176810772

2) Using VMRs (Virtual Meeting Rooms)

I wrote a recent blog about “The Rise of the Virtual Meeting Room”. The use of VMRs in a collaborative ecosystem typically happens at a later stage in the development of the ecosystem. VMRs are very powerful because they can:

  1. Drastically reduce costs
  2. Drastically accelerate the workflow (the velocity of collaboration) of both existing processes and re-engineered processes

In the Justice ecosystem a perfect example of using VMRs would be to allow the general public to pay their traffic tickets with a hearing in a VMR. When you use a VMR you don’t need a courtroom (massive cost savings), and you allow a person who received the traffic ticket to call into the VMR for their trial. The judge, the officer, the lawyer (if required) and the defendant would all be participants in the VMR. The travel savings for all involved would be huge.

I know that if I get a ticket, I have to seriously consider whether I want to go to all the trouble of fighting it versus just paying the fine. It is easily a half-day of my time, during business hours to go to court. If not for the significant implications on my insurance, I would elect to just pay the ticket because it would be cheaper to do that than to take the time to make an appearance in court.

If I could just dial into a VMR from my browser instead of going to traffic court that would be a huge benefit for me.

The Healthcare system is probably the most evolved in terms of using the VMR to change its processes and do things in new ways. Here is a blog that provides an example of how Healthcare is doing that.

Using VMRs as described in the Traffic Ticket scenario above would also require some software to be written that would mimic the workflow of the traffic court. People would need to check in online, be held in a queue waiting to see the judge in the VMR with the other participants. But this extra expense is minimal compared to what could be saved through the strategic use of VMRs within the Justice collaborative ecosystem.

3) Collaborative Portals

With the technology infrastructure in place, new things can be implemented that were not possible before. With some additional software, recordings of the courtroom proceedings can now be captured in a way that was not previously possible. Video and audio streams can be recorded simultaneously from the different cameras and microphones in the courtroom and can be captured as the record of the court.   These court records can be:

  • Instantly archived in the courtroom, with two layers of back-up (courthouse and datacenter)
  • Instantly retrieved whenever required by authorized personnel
  • Tran scripted instantly
  • Distributed with different pieces redacted in the recording, depending on who needs to review the record
  • Used as evidence in a court of law and have the veracity to stand up to any challenges
  • Be used in an online secure portal for authorized personnel to collaborate by reviewing and commenting on the record

Extending the technology capabilities leverages the initial investment in technology already in place and further accelerates the velocity of collaboration in the Justice ecosystem – a compounding of the collaborative investment.

There are more than just these three strategic transformation examples which will have further impact on the business case for investment in a new collaborative technology platform. Being able to continue to conduct business in the face of a SARS like crisis using VMRs is another example.

Conclusion

The natural evolution of a collaborative ecosystem is to capture operational savings first, then to realize productivity gains as a by product through the extension of the technology to new processes; and finally, hit the home runs through the strategic transformation of the ecosystem.

It is a journey, and it is hard to envision the final destination other than to know that when the transformation is complete, your ecosystem will perform 2 to 6 times better than when the journey began.

It takes considerable fortitude by those steering the ecosystem to make the investment without truly understanding how the ecosystem will function when the collaborative technology is fully enabled. They must resist the temptation to cut corners and compromise on the building of the platform that will become the foundation for transformation.

The first steps you take in transforming your ecosystem will be the springboard to the future of becoming a highly enabled collaborative organization. Take strong, well thought out steps and don’t compromise.