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December 23, 2004

Touch screen drivers testing machine unveiled in Talladega County

From: Daily Home Online, AL - Dec 23, 2004

By Chris Norwood

TALLADEGA — Perhaps the least noted major challenge faced by many deaf and hearing impaired people in the United States is that, for those who are fluent in American Sign Language, English is a second language. According to Judith Gilliam, president of the Alabama Association of the Deaf, standard written English can be particularly frustrating for some hearing impaired people in dealing with the passive voice, subordinate clauses and questions.

All of which makes the multiple-choice driver's test very difficult.

A joint program involving the Alabama Department of Public Safety, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should remedy the problem.

The result of the project is a touch screen testing machine that can give a randomized driving test in 14 different languages, including ASL. When the machine is in ASL mode, a video on an individual signing the questions and multiple-choice answers appears on screen. The test taker is free to toggle back and forth between text and video.

Three such machines were unveiled and demonstrated for the media in the Talladega County Courthouse Wednesday morning. According to trooper Paul Mashburn, public information officer for the Jacksonville State Trooper Post, the machines are now available in all 16 five-days-a-week testing centers in Alabama.

Jenny Openshaw is co-owner and vice president of sales for Openshaw Media, the company that designed the machines. According to her, Alabama is the only state in the union to have made these machines available. The machines are a tremendous improvement over the way hearing impaired people were tested previously, she said.

"In the past, there was a video tape of someone signing the questions and answers," she explained. "That was difficult and time-consuming, since you had to stop the tape to answer the question, and rewind it if you missed something. Also, the test was always the same. There was no good way to randomize it. The AutoTest system automatically randomizes questions, so no two people will be taking the exact same test.

"You can pause, stop or repeat a question just by touching the screen, and you can skip questions that way, too."

There is no time limit, and examiners will still be able to monitor the machines from their computer terminals, and can step in if there appears to be a problem.

While the demonstration in Talladega centered on the benefits to the deaf community, the machine is also a boon to those who speak other languages and those who do not read English well. The test taker chooses from one of 14 available languages, and may listen to questions over a handset so as not to disturb those around them.

In addition to a standard driver's license, the machine can also test for a commercial driver's license (CDL) and any necessary endorsements.

"This is perfect for accessibility for the deaf community," Gilliam said.

Rann Gordon of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind concurred, saying, "I hope this will reduce the communication barriers for all deaf people."

Mashburn said the system was initially developed for increased security in CDL testing. "Then we added the layers of software for a Class D license, then added the ASL layer. This program is the first of its kind in the country, and it shows what you can do with different state and federal agencies working together."

About Chris Norwood
Chris Norwood is a staff writer for The Daily Home.

Contact Chris Norwood
Phone: 256 299-2114
FAX: 256 299-2192

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