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October 4, 2003

Ohlone updates technology for deaf

From: The Argus, CA - Oct 4, 2003

New system allows

By Jennifer Kho

Saturday, October 04, 2003 - FREMONT -- A few months ago, if you were a deaf student at Ohlone College, and you wanted to use the phone, you would have needed lots of time.

You would have used the TTY system, typing your comments out and waiting for a text message back.

If the person you were calling was deaf, you would type back and forth as if you were chatting on the Internet. But if the person could hear, it took even longer.

You would wait for the interpreter to read your comments aloud to the person on the other end of the line, get comments back, and then type them back to you. Emotions were difficult to convey, and you were using English, your second language.

Now that has all changed.

The college has six Sorenson Media video phones, VP-100s and has selected Sorenson Video Relay Service to provide the service for the phones. By Oct. 21, 11 phones will be in place and working. The school is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 24 to celebrate the new system, although the date is not yet set in stone.

This is how the new system works: You turn on a television or computer hooked up to one of these phones. Using a remote control, you call the number of another person using a voice phone or of the Sorenson Video Relay Service, (866) FAST-VRS.

Using Internet broadband lines, a video camera above the monitor captures an image of you using sign language -- your first language -- in real time and transmits it either straight to the other person or to an interpreter, who reads it out loud to him or her and signs the response back to you.

Interpreters convey emotion by the tone of voice and the body language in signing.

"We have more access and opportunity to be a community," signed Ron Burdett, Ohlone's dean of deaf studies and special services, interpreted by Ann Fuller, supervisor of interpreting services. "We don't have to use a (regular) phone, we can use this. And we can be connected anywhere -- to Florida or New York -- and it's absolutely free."

The technology for the new system first was introduced in April and has become very popular since, said Diana Johnson, director of marketing for Sorenson Media in Salt Lake City. It allows hearing and deaf faculty members and hearing and deaf students all to communicate, and also can be used for regular video conferencing, she said.

Sorenson Media is providing the video phones and service free to Ohlone College and is being reimbursed by the Federal Communications Commission with money from the Federal Disabilities Act.

The college already has enough broadband wiring to run the first six video phones and Sorenson Media is paying to install a second line Oct. 21. The school will have to pay the monthly fee for the line, which will cost less than a monthly telephone bill, Johnson said.

Most of the new video phones are in deaf faculty offices. One for public use is stationed in an open cubicle at the Deaf Center.

Burdett said the center tried another system that used a Web camera, but dismissed it because it could not protect against viruses.

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