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June 15, 2004

Helping The Deaf Communicate

From: KXAN-TV - Austin,TX,USA - Jun 15, 2004

For years, millions of Texans and tens of thousands of Travis County residents have been at the mercy of someone else to make their phone calls to anyone from doctors to loved ones. That's been the reality for deaf and hard of hearing folks for years.

Now a new application of an existing technology is transforming lives and breaking down barriers to communication.

"I lost my hearing when I was about two years of age and was classified as hard of hearing until about 10 years ago. Now I'm completely deaf," deaf Austinite Betty O'Rourke said.

For years, O'Rourke has had to rely on the written word to access TV and phone calls using text messaging.

"I thought the TTY was great when we first got it. I didn't have to run to the neighbors house to call the doctor or anything like that," O'Rourke said.

But TTY technology also has flaws.

"I have three sons who are profoundly deaf," Sorenson Video Relay Call Center Director Rebecca Smith said.

Now a new tool is helping O'Rourke and others break down barriers to phone communications.

"This is the video relay camera, and this is what we use to make phone calls," O'Rourke said.

"All they need is a television a videophone and high speed Internet," Smith said, "They call and are connected to an interpreter, a live inter pretor. The inter pretor then makes the phone call to the hearing person and interprets what the deaf person is signing and signs what the hearing person is saying."

"It saves a lot of time. It's easier to talk to you," O'Rourke said.

"With a live inter pretor, the inflection is in the voice. The facial expressions are understood. I get a feel for what he'd be saying if indeed he could talk," Smith said.

Sorenson Video Relay Service's call center opened in Austin in January. The service is free.

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