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February 20, 2004

Company helps deaf, community communicate

From: Pocono Record - Stroudsburg,PA,USA - Feb 20, 2004

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A deaf man who was battered and cut in a workplace explosion sought help in an emergency room, but couldn't tell hospital staff about the kidney transplant he had recently undergone or the anti-rejection medications he was taking.

There was a time when the man would have waited for the hospital to contact an interpreter and for the interpreter to arrive at the scene before he could properly communicate with the staff.

But by using video conferencing equipment and a service supplied by suburban Pittsburgh-based Deaf-Talk LLC, the man was connected within minutes to Kathy Beethan, a certified American Sign Language Interpreter.

"In this situation, he was on a stretcher, he was bleeding, glass was hanging from his face," said Beethan, whose Wake Forest, N.C., company, Interpreters Inc., is one of two firms that supply ASL interpreting services to Deaf-Talk. "The hospital needed to treat him right away and would have without knowing some very important medical information. They couldn't have known without wasting a lot of time."

In 1999, Deaf-Talk founders Dave Stauffer, 59, and Robert Fisher, 57, both of the Pittsburgh area, initially planned to start second careers in the teleconferencing industry.

The business partners were buying video conferencing equipment from a manufacturer in Taiwan. Although they say they were getting the equipment for a good price, Stauffer said they weren't sure they could compete with bigger distributors.

While they searched for a way to market their equipment, Stauffer ran into a news story about a deaf man who was in the throes of a heart attack but couldn't tell hospital workers about his symptoms because they didn't know sign language.

With a little research, Stauffer learned hospitals are required to provide interpreters to deaf patients free of charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He also realized he could use his dormant equipment to link sign language interpreters to patients in hospitals around the nation.

"In the beginning, we saw that we could make a difference and help. We knew it could work as a business, too," Stauffer said from his Mount Lebanon office.

In 2000, with no employees and $80,000 in teleconferencing equipment, Stauffer and Fisher started the privately held corporation, offering a link between hospitals and American Sign Language interpreters.

Today, Deaf-Talk employs 23 employees, works with a monthly operating budget of about $60,000 and has been in the black for the last six months, Stauffer said.

The company has a contract with Interpreters Inc. and CICS Language Solutions in Charlotte, N.C., to provide sign language interpreters to the 150 hospitals that subscribe to the service. But Deaf-Talk also offers the services of interpreters who speak dozens of other languages — from Afrikaans to Zulu — through the telephone.

"From 69 to 71 percent of our foreign-language calls come from Spanish speakers," Stauffer said. "We don't have many requests for a Hmong interpreter but when we do, we're ready."

Deaf-Talk supplies subscribers with a television, video camera and other equipment on a wheeled cart. The hospitals can either rent the equipment for $400 a month or purchase the hardware for $5,9000, Stauffer said.

He would not reveal the wholesale price of the equipment.

Calls between hospitals and interpreters cost $3 a minute and most calls last about 12 minutes.

The service could save hospitals money if they need the services of an interpreter for less than a half hour. Sign language interpreters can charge anywhere from $35 to $125 hour, Stauffer said.

"If you wake me up at 2 a.m. and ask me to travel to a hospital for interpreting services, you're going to have to pay me for every second that I'm sitting there, not just the time that I'm using my hands," said Cheryl Pfeiffer, a sign language interpreter who co-owns CICS Language Solutions.

Deaf-Talk's services haven't replaced the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's need for interpreters who work one-on-one and face-to-face with patients, said Karen Christman, the manager of the hospital's department of clinical social work.

The hospital, which has subscribed to the service for about a year, usually contacts Deaf-Talk when it needs interpreting services immediately, such as in the emergency room, Christman said.

"Every family is anxious and concerned when they're in the ER, but it's especially frustrating when a parent can't communicate with the staff," Christman said. "When you see how the parents' discomfort and anxiety are lifted, you realize the service is worth it."

Copyright © February 20, 2004, Pocono Record