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December 14, 2004

Deaf get a VRI nice video Christmas present

From: Australian IT - Australia - Dec 14, 2004

Karen Dearne
DECEMBER 14, 2004

DEAF employees can now access live sign-language translation services during business meetings and conferences, thanks to a Video Remote Interpreting system developed by IBM Australia and the Deaf Society of NSW.

The Deaf Society plans to offer VRI services nationwide over business videoconferencing systems.

To date, Auslan (Australian sign language) interpreters have attended workplaces in person to provide their services, but the severe shortage of interpreters has led to lengthy delays.

Deaf Society executive director Rebecca Ladd said the VRI system almost doubled an interpreter's productivity because it eliminated travel between assignments.

Businesses will be able to book time more or less on demand.

IBM Australia chief executive Philip Bullock said the VRI project began as "a way to resolve a challenge we had in integrating deaf people into our workplace".

"What you see today is really a very straightforward service that any organisation with video capability can use," he said. "I suspect we're at the very early stages.

"Come back in five years and I can envisage it being attached to a PC on anyone's desk."

Mr Bullock said VRI had been trialled for more than a year by deaf employees such as Rebecca Adam, a service level manager who also chaired the firm's disability networking group.

Ms Adam said she was no longer missing out on opportunities to participate in workplace discusssions because of the interpreter shortage.

"It's very exciting to go to work and know that I have this support system in place that I can use at any time," she said.

"It's great to be able to attend a meeting without having to plan everything two weeks in advance.

"Not having to work out the logistics of finding an interpreter really takes the pressure off. It's a wonderful feeling, actually."

People familiar with videoconferencing, generally have little trouble adapting to VRI, she said.

"The technology really does it all for you once you've established the protocols," she said.

Mr Bullock said the VRI service was developed by IBM in the US in conjunction with the Communication Service for the Deaf.

"With the support of the Deaf Society, it has really come of age," he said.

"We're fairly comfortable that it can work in any business environment that has video capability."

Ms Adam said VRI had become so widespread in the US that more than 10 interpreting services had been established in the past two years.

"I think we might have the same level of demand in Australia once people become familiar with it."

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Copyright 2004 News Limited. All times AEST (GMT+10).