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September 7, 2003

Gallaudet & VRS

From: NBC, DC - Sept 7, 2003

Adding more meaning to sign

I.J. Hudson, Tech Reporter When Ralph Fernandez is a web designer with Gallaudet University. When he wants to make a phone call to a hearing person, he jumps on the Internet and connects to the Sorenson Video Relay Service, which has a partnership with Gallaudet. Sorenson makes a videophone appliance that hooks up to a computer monitor or TV and software for videoconferencing.

At the call center, an available American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter pops up on the screen and handles the call.

It works like this. Ralph sets up a video connection to the Sorenson call center using a broadband Internet connection. An interpreter there makes a phone call to the hearing person, and becomes a relay: sign into speech for the hearing person, speech into sign for the deaf person.

It's a lot faster than typing out messages on TTY systems.

Fernandez says the Sorenson videophone he uses provides high quality video. That translates into seeing the Interpreter very well and more meaning from the signs. "If people are talking, whether it's very rapid, or whatever their tone or emotion is, if I see the person signing that way, I get a sense of the tone as well," says Fernandez. "With the lower quality or through the TTY relay, in a sense, it was faceless, I wouldn't get that type of tone, I wouldn't get the emotion or the intonation. Through this service the quality is much faster, and I get that."

Interpreters are busy at the call center at Gallaudet. Higher quality video over the Internet is opening doors of communications. The deaf and hard of hearing are making more contacts with the hearing world.

Anne Acampora is one of the interpreters at the center, and talks about the kinds of calls they are relaying. "We get everything from fast food, people ordering pizza, people calling their family members, making doctor appointments."

Acampora says communicating this way is more accurate and personal because the interpreter is "passing along" feeling with the words. "You have deaf people calling family members for the first time using the service, and I just love placing those calls, because you have deaf people saying 'this is so, I feel like I'm talking to you. I see your facial expressions so much better than reading a TTY screen."

The Internet and interpreters - providing important links between the deaf and hearing communities.

Copyright 2003 by All rights reserved.