Ferry System to Install Message-Display System for People
with Hearing Loss
Washington State Ferries, the nation's largest ferry system, will shortly
install a system to display visually the content of announcements made at
its terminals and onboard its vessels. The system will be tested on board
the two large boats serving the Seattle-Bainbridge Island crossing, and at
the Bainbridge and Seattle terminals, for a six-month test, and if
successful, will then be installed system-wide.
The ferry system makes a considerable number of announcements over
public-address systems on its boats and at its terminals. While some are
routine and relatively unimportant, others can be quite specific and very
important, dealing with matters like lost objects, cars with lights or
alarms on, vessel delays, or changes in loading or unloading procedures.
Those announcements have often been inaccessible to riders with hearing
Aurally delivered information can be made available to individuals with
hearing loss by converting that information to written form and displaying
it visually. That involves a two-step process, either of which can be
problematic. First, the information has to be "captured" and put into
written form. Second, the information has to be displayed in a manner
visible to people who need to know what is being said.
For the ferry system, the display part was easy -- there are ample places
to put television monitors or other devices to show announcements. The
difficult issue was the "capture" -- discovering how best to put the
messages in written form.
The firm with which WSF is contracting, Four WInds Interactive from
Denver, is going to address that problem with a drop-down menu that will
allow the crew to make the message specific without needing to do much, if
any, keyboard entry. The standard boarding, welcome and safety messages will
all be prepared in advance in written form. For variable messages like "car
alarm," the program will display a menu of auto makes and colors, and can
indicate the deck of the ferry on which the car is located. Similarly, the
"lost object" menu can specify whether the item is a wallet, cell phone,
keys, or other object.
The test system should be installed on the Bainbridge boats and the
Bainbridge and Seattle terminals by mid-December, according to WSF
officials. The timing is particularly appropriate, because those boats are
often crowded with holiday shoppers even at mid-day, and the more crowded
and noisy the boats, the greater the need for the information broadcast over
the public-address system to be made visually accessible to people with less
than perfect hearing.
Installation of the visual paging system is being done to resolve a
lawsuit that the Washington State Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP)
brought against WSF in 2008. The suit was quickly resolved in the form of an
agreed order signed by the court. WSF has been working promptly and
diligently to implement the terms of that order, and deserves our
commendation and thanks.