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November 15, 2004

Relaying offers deaf telecommunication

From: Northwest Arkansas Times - Fayetteville,AR,USA - Nov 15, 2004

BY DREW TERRY Northwest Arkansas Times

Imagine the frustration of having a telephone call disconnected because the person on the other end thinks its a type of solicitation.

Arkansas Relay Service officials say it happens often to their deaf and hard-ofhearing patrons attempting to call businesses and are hoping to make establishments more aware that they may be hanging up on potential customers.

Camillia Pennington is an avid user of the relay service. She utilizes both the text and video formats to converse with family, friends and educators and sometimes to conduct business — that is, when she isn't mistaken for someone trying to sell something. "Sometimes the business would assume that we are trying to solicit them to buy something, but in reality we are trying to order or to make an appointment or to find out what services their business provides for us," Pennington said in an email interview. "Businesses are not used to traditional relay, where they would have to wait for me to finish typing and then say 'GA' (go ahead) on the TTY (a telecommunications device for the deaf). They are used to that they could interrupt or talk like normal."

Officials with the relay service encourage businesses to familiarize their employees with the communications programs helping the deaf.

While the technology may be new to some people, it has become a part of everyday life for others.

Micky Davenport considers the relay service an indispensable tool for the deaf community. He is able to hear but uses the service to contact his friends who cannot. "It allows them to blend into society as much as they would like to now," Davenport said of the video system. "Prior to that it was difficult to contact them. There have been the TTYs, but that's not nearly as effective as the video relay service. It was more difficult.

" I think they can be as much a part of the mainstream society as they'd like to with the relay service. Most communities if not all communities have a service for the deaf people if they need it. "

Arkansas Relay offers both the TTY communications and video communications.

During TTY use, Arkansas Relay operators interpret between a person speaking and a deaf person typing.

The video relay service requires video feeds over a high-speed or broadband Internet connection. Deaf users and sign language interpreters can see each other on their respective screens. The deaf individual can sign to the interpreter, who then relays the message to the hearing user through a standard phone line and signs that person's response to the deaf user.

Pennington prefers the video relay service to text telephones, mainly because it allows aural-deficient people to communicate in their native language.

" Often, deaf people would prefer to use sign language than to use a text telephone device — TDD, "she said." The reason is that English is not their first language, and it can be difficult for them to communicate via this method. They are more comfortable communicating in sign language because it is their language and their culture. "

Before discovering the video relay service, Pennington relied on other methods of expression. There were interpreters, text messaging devices like instant messengers and e-mail pagers, and text telephones.

Pennington, who has been deaf since birth, used interpreters and a paper-and-pen system while attending the Russellville Public Schools. She described those methods as frustrating and sometimes lonely for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Pennington eventually transferred to the Arkansas School for the Deaf, where she graduated in 2000 as a valedictorian. At 23, she now is living in Fayetteville and studying Web design at the Northwest Arkansas Community College in Rogers.

Her friends and a Web site led her to video relay services last summer. It since has become her and her family's preferred means of communicating, she said.

" I use it to call my family in my hometown and also to call several different businesses or my friends, "Pennington said. "... I really do like the videophone relay service, which makes it a whole lot easier and quicker. My hearing family likes it when I call them via video relay service because it is easier for them because they do not have to worry about saying (go ahead or stop keying)."

The Center for Students with Disabilities at the University of Arkansas currently is seeking to acquire equipment to allow video relays between two deaf individuals, said Dr. Teresa Wells, an assistant director for the center. "VRS is more useful when both people involved in the conversation sign and want to carry on their conversation in sign rather than translating to text," she said. "... for folks whose native language is sign, I think the VRS is a wonderful service and I'm glad it's available."

The center for students with disabilities currently uses a text-based relay system as a main way of receiving calls from deaf individuals. It also utilizes instant messenger programs, e-mail and direct communications with or without an interpreter. "E-mail is, however, by far the most common method of communication between deaf students and our office," Wells said.

Davenport has used relay services for about the past 10 years. He became interested in the services and signing when a friend lost her hearing for nearly a year.

Since then Davenport has signed for deaf attendants of Center Street Church of Christ, Wal-Mart business meetings and other gatherings.

Before discovering the relay service, communicating with people with hearing disabilities required face-to-face contact or a written letter, Davenport said. He believed the relay service not only makes the communication process quicker, but it also may draw more deaf individuals into mainstream society. "The deaf culture is completely different; hearing people cannot penetrate it," he said. "Sometimes when you marry a deaf person you may become part of the deaf culture that way, but as an interpreter you stay on the outside. You can make friends, but you never become a part of it.

" You can sometimes go long periods of time and never see one. Some don't want to be a part of society. (The relay service) may change some of that. "

Pennington hoped part of that changing process included people becoming more aware of the way deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals communicate.

" Many businesses that are not familiar with relay service, they would assume that the relay service is trying to solicit them, which they are not, "she said." They are trying to explain to them how to use the relay service. The important thing is that (businesses) not hang up while the relay service tries to explain because (a person) wants to order food or make appointments. "

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