Caribbean Video Assistance Service (CVAS)
The Caribbean Video Assistance Service (CVAS) project began as a collaboration between the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and VTCSecure of the USA to use information and communication technologies (ICT) to empower people with disabilities by providing a technological platform to facilitate communications without expensive equipment via their phone, computer or wireless device, from virtually anywhere. The service was seen as something that could significantly enhance the quality of the lives of Deaf or Blind Caribbean citizens.
VTCSecure is a global leader in communication access for PWDs and provides secure On-Demand, Video, Voice & Text Call Centre Services. CTU and VTCSecure share a common vision to use ICT to transform every aspect of Caribbean life and to foster ICT-enabled Caribbean social and economic development. The introduction of this service will reduce the inequality that PWD currently face and will be an important part of promoting inclusivity and providing accessibility for such citizens in keeping with the principles of the UN CRPD.
CVAS will enable the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired sign language users not only to call each other and communicate directly, but also to speak with agents (sign language interpreters), who will relay conversations between them and hearing parties. An innovation of CVAS is that not only will it provide the usual video relay service (VRS), but as a result of the technological innovation inherent in the platform, it will also enable video assistance for the blind or the visually impaired. CVAS agents will assist blind users by enabling them to resolve issues for which they need the assistance of a sighted person.
A successful proof of concept demonstration was performed early in the life of the project and a great deal of excitement was generated in the PWD community and among other stakeholders.
However, to make CVAS a reality, the CTU Secretariat has also collaborated with a number of other stakeholders, in particular the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT), Digicel, Tobago Information Technology Limited (TITL), the Trinidad and Tobago Association for the Hearing Impaired (TTAHI), PWDs and sign language interpreters. A great deal of work has been undertaken and time spent in planning out the pilot for the service and to put in place the necessary technical support and services and agent support required for CVAS.
In May 2020, the project moved into a Pilot phase, with the financial and in kind support of TATT, Digicel, TITL and TTAHI. The aim of the pilot is to test CVAS to ensure that it can operate effectively within three CTU Member States, with the intention that it will be rolled out in as many of the other CTU Member States as possible that would like to implement the service.
The pilot duration was increased from the initially envisaged three months to six months in order to capture the full range of issues that can potentially arise. Such issues will be addressed to ensure the optimum service configuration upon full implementation and that CVAS will operate smoothly and professionally.
The CTU views CVAS as an imperative that should become a permanent feature of the services provided to PWDs not only in Trinidad and Tobago but in as many of its Member States as possible. Hence the addition of the two other CTU Member States in the pilot.