SSA revamps interface with Windows-like visual aids

The Social Security Administration has updated its national toll-free customer
service by giving a graphical face-lift to dozens of older mainframe databases.

Associate Commissioner Charles Wood said retrofitting the green screens with Microsoft
Windows-like command buttons and drop-down menus, though technically challenging, was well
worth the effort.

Wood, who spoke at the recent FOSE trade show in Washington, said the agency receives 4
million calls a month on its 800 toll-free number.

At least 60,000 calls a day involve requests that necessitate changes to the mainframe
master files.

Using the new client-server Customer Help Information Program (CHIP), SSA employees can
change the master files and complete each such call within six minutes on average, Wood

The graphical interface has equalized the skill levels of SSA employees, he said, and
has given Windows-savvy users the modern graphics and data query capabilities they expect.

As the agency’s first client-server application, Wood said, CHIP was a learning

SSA customer service employees access up to 35 mainframe applications that have only
limited display options and difficult navigation paths.

The Windows screens have replaced status queries that, in the past, required extensive

In updating its call center application, SSA had to take into account different
languages, state laws, regulations, geographies and time zones, Wood said.

The 60,000-person work force includes about 850 employees who require assistive
technology to do their jobs. CHIP not only satisfies the Windows users, it also helps the
disabled employees, Wood said.

SSA used Job Access for Speech (JAWS) software from Hunter-Joyce Inc. of St.
Petersburg, Fla., to interpret CHIP captions, window titles, dialog boxes, menu choices
and text, Wood said.

JAWS gives an audio assist to employees with visual disabilities who send their screen
data manually to a speech synthesizer. It synthesizes sounds for the words displayed on
screen. The users navigate through CHIP with audio cues from the speech synthesizer about
as fast as users can by pointing and clicking, Wood said.

Representatives from the IRS and General Services Administration also spoke at FOSE
about their agencies’ graphical interface updates for legacy systems.  


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