Pedius is a four-month-old Italian startup that has an app currently available for Android that enables the deaf to make phone calls. The user texts a message, and that text translates to speech at the other side of the phone call. There is also a clean-looking website to accompany it, and, although it is currently available only in Italian, it is soon set to expand to Brazil, the United States, and India.
The founder, Lorenzo Di Ciaccio, described the service as being “about [fulfilling] a big human need: independence. In some countries, the deaf can make phone calls using special call centers known as relay services, where an operator calls on behalf of the deaf. This implies an issue of privacy and [then there is the] delay in waiting for a free operator.” And though the Ente Nazionale Sordi – that is, The National Body of the Deaf – have apps available for a smartphone that allow the deaf to call a taxi or call the police, Pedius is bound strictly by who one can text.
In other countries, a relay service means that a third party listens to a call being made by someone else and types it out for the person who is deaf or hearing impaired. This is the case in Australia, who have what they call the “National Relay Service.” Though Australia’s Privacy Act of 1988 and its subsequent modifications aim to protect the privacy of those using the relay service, there is still an active third party involved with these phone calls, and it’s something that the National Relay Service’s own explanatory video seeks to address.
4,000 calls have been made from Pedius so far. There are 800 users and 200 use the system daily. It works in Italian, English and Spanish, and French will be available next month.
In many countries, Lorenzo said, these services aren’t available 24 hours per day. During the private beta test, users “called restaurants for reservations, doctors to schedule a visit, and many other services.” Sometimes those answering at restaurants would hang up, thinking that they were getting some sort of an automated sales call – a ‘Congratulations, you may already be a winner!’ – but if that happened, Lorenzo said, “we called restaurants explaining what Pedius is and would clarify that by hanging up, they probably lost a customer. This – most of the time – is enough.”
They’re also trying to figure out how to deal with companies that use phone calls as part of a ‘user validation’ process. Does Pedius count as a text, an e-mail, or a phone call? How will it be evaluated by systems like this?
“Of course,” Lorenzo said. “Not all of the problems are so tough. Some of our users are asking to have a male voice instead of a female voice.” Some ask if “they can use Pedius on a PC with a bigger keyboard.”