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September 28, 2004

Educators increasing use of video streaming for the deaf

From: Ohio News Network, OH - Sep 28, 2004

MASON, Ohio -- The spread of high-speed Internet is improving distance learning for the deaf through transmissions smooth enough to allow sign language instruction.

Educators are increasing the use of video streaming _ the progressive feeding of small chunks of information that can be viewed as they are downloaded _ to supplement onsite teaching. Some hope the technology will enable them eventually to offer full degrees online.

"Nobody in the hearing world cared if the video was a little jerky because they had a soundtrack with it," said David Stecca, chief executive of Deaf Video Communications of America Inc. of Wheaton, Ill. "Video streaming is still far from perfect, but with high-speed Internet connection, a deaf person can now see good, clean-motion sign language over the Internet."

Pastor Fred Adams is relying on video-streamed classes to expand enrollment at Sword Deaf College, a suburban Cincinnati religious college he founded to train people to minister to the deaf.

"Students who cannot attend classes at deaf colleges or universities can take courses online this way," said Adams, who lost his hearing at the age of 8 months.

While videotaped instruction has been available to the deaf and hard of hearing for years, tapes _ and later CDs and DVDs _ had to be kept and stored and required students to have the equipment to view them. Video streaming allows easy viewing of large video files that can be offered live or pre-recorded. Now it also allows the quality of transmission needed to view sign language.

"In the last couple of years, more communities have gained access to affordable high-speed connections with broadband, cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) and that has allowed more deaf people to benefit from video streaming," said Stephen Campbell, manager of technology support services at National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y.

High-speed Internet access has continued to spread, driven largely by demand as more people work from their homes and offices.

Tsutomu Araki, a hearing professor in mechanical engineering at Tsukuba College of Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, uses the technology to teach deaf students.

"Video streaming of Web-based presentations and meetings is a real benefit to deaf students and faculty in Japan because they can access these resources at anytime and can repeat the presentation as necessary," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Andy Warmack has attended classes with interpreters and has used video-streamed instruction. He says the technology is a breakthrough for deaf students because it makes location irrelevant and increases their access to education.

Even interpreted classes present problems for deaf students because instruction is more indirect, said Warmack, 36, who is now a minister to the deaf at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.

"Interpreters may indeed be provided in a traditional classroom setting, but this is not as engaging as actually having an instructor who signs and with whom deaf students can interact easily," he said.

Adams is raising money to build a 100-student dormitory at his campus in Mason but hopes to enroll many more students around the world with video-streamed classes.

The Christian Deaf Virtual University, based in Birmingham, Ala., hopes to become accredited so that deaf students can earn degrees solely online. The online university provides religious courses taught in American Sign Language via video streaming to deaf students pursuing degrees at other universities.

"Right now, video streaming is one-way from instructor to student," said Sharon Berry, the school's executive director. "The dream would be to expand it to make the entire online classroom interactive."

Stecca would like to see online, video-streamed tutoring for deaf students in elementary and secondary schools.

"It would be wonderful to have a centralized program where deaf students could receive live video-streamed tutoring that would help more of them get to college," he said.

Costs of video streaming can vary depending on the extent of the setup, which can range from one camera trained on a teacher throughout the class to more complicated, multi-image systems with captioning, photos and graphics.

It is difficult to determine how many people might benefit from the improvements in video streaming and other computer-based technology, said Michael Karchmer, director of Gallaudet Research Institute at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a liberal arts university for the deaf.

"There are few deaf statistics out there based on pure data," he said. "Much of the information is gathered in surveys that rely on people's own perception of their level of deafness."

Data from the most recent surveys by groups such as the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau estimate anywhere from 7 million to 8 million people in the United States are deaf or hard of hearing, and an estimated 400,000 to 900,000 may be considered severely to profoundly deaf. Most estimates of the number of people in the United States with some degree of hearing loss are around 28 million.

Alton Brant, an associate professor of American Sign Language at Clemson University in South Carolina, said deaf people are becoming technologically literate through online programs and other devices at a faster rate than many hearing people.

"I now see everything moving increasingly away from the classroom or campus setting and going online," Brant said. "The possibilities for deaf communication with video streaming and other improving technology are endless."


On the Net:

Gallaudet University:

National Technical Institute for the Deaf:

Sword Deaf College:

Deaf Video Communications of America Inc.:

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