Guest blog: Connecting with more of your community

Blog post by Betty Dodds-Putkovich

Betty Dodds-Putkovich is the chair of the Governor’s Advisory Board for Telecommunications Relay, which provides Maryland Relay with vital feedback and insight on the issues that affect Relay users, including quality and trends in Relay services, technology, and community outreach. She was appointed to the board in 2005 by Governor Robert Ehrlich.

Betty is late-deafened and has been very proactive in the issues of the deaf and hard of hearing communities. She has and continues to serve on many boards, including as a founding board member of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government, an organization advocating for fair treatment of government employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.

When I became late-deafened, it was immediately clear that I was losing more than my hearing. I was losing a way to connect with people.

It’s hard to explain how hearing loss can affect your life to those who aren’t experiencing it. I remember crying many tears because not even my family could understand what I was going through. I felt alone and disconnected. The greatest discovery I made was Maryland Relay.

Relay services, like Maryland Relay, have been life changing in allowing me to connect with my community. I can make phone calls to my friends and family, and I have felt that sense of independence I had lost finally coming back. The services are free and allow those who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who have difficulty speaking to communicate over the phone using specialized equipment and operators who relay their conversation.

Using Maryland Relay was a great way to connect with my loved ones, but it became abundantly clear that the hearing public—especially local businesses—didn’t understand Maryland Relay or Relay services at all.

I remember trying to call a local company to repair my bathtub. I called using my text telephone and TTY service, left a message, and never got a call back. I tried calling again, and an employee answered the phone, so I started to explain why I was calling. Instead of listening to me speak and accepting my business, he swore and yelled into the phone that he did not need relay before slamming down the phone. I was in shock and thought: do I want to make more calls and risk going through that again?

In the deaf community, this is extremely common. Businesses often mistake Relay calls for unsolicited sales calls and hang up the phone, preventing them from connecting with potential customers. Not only is this frustrating for us, it’s potentially costing the company customers and profits.

One of the goals of Maryland Relay is to fix this problem, which starts with education. The Maryland Relay Partner program is a free educational program for businesses. By signing up, all employees can receive training on how to recognize, receive, and place a call through Maryland Relay so that they can make those valuable connections with customers who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have difficulty speaking.

Using the phone is an aspect of independence that those who are hearing take for granted. For example, imagine having to ask your neighbor to call your doctor because you are unable to do so. It’s uncomfortable and invasive, but it is an aspect of life that individuals with hearing loss have to deal with. If all businesses were Maryland Relay Partners, we could all take back that independence and reconnect with our community.

Help your business connect with more of the community by visiting mdrelay.org and signing up for your free Maryland Relay Partner training!


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