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November 5, 2007

Interpretek bridges gap between the deaf and the hearing

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Nov 5, 2007

Ana Fermin
Staff writer

(November 5, 2007) — To whom do you primarily target your services?

Interpretek provides services to anyone who needs equal access to communication through the use of American Sign Language. This includes deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals. We also provide volume services to large organizations such as universities, corporations and nonprofit organizations that are committed to ongoing equal access to their constituents.

How has your business grown and how did you expand into Orlando and Omaha?

Our expansion to other cities has been aided by our dynamic relationships with interpreters and interpreter agencies in those cities. In Omaha, we worked with individual interpreters in the area to establish a Video Relay Service center. In Orlando, we worked with an existing interpreter agency to create a new entity under the auspices of Interpretek. Through this strategic partnership, Interpretek was able to increase its Orlando business by a factor of five.

Can you tell us about Video Relay Services and Video Remote Interpreting?

Video Relay Services is part of a federal mandate under Title IV of the American Disabilities Act to provide equal access to the telecommunications network. Our partner, Snap!VRS, is licensed to provide the technology and network for this service. They are then reimbursed through an association of telephone providers.

Interpretek, in turn, provides the interpreters to relay these calls for consumers. This allows deaf and hard of hearing consumers access to the telephone network 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year through their video phones. These video phones work through standard broadband Internet access.

Video Remote Interpreting provides interpreting services through video phones when all of the consumers are in the same room. This is not reimbursed as a VRS call because this is not considered a telecommunications event and is normally billed to the organization paying for the service. This is an ideal set up for remote locations that do not have access to a pool of interpreters or for emergency situations that require instant access to interpreting services, such as emergency rooms in hospitals. This generally requires the use of video phone technology and high broadband Internet access in the end locations.

What impact is this technology having in how the deaf community engages in the workplace and other life activities?

This has had a tremendous impact on the way the community does business. Now it is possible for deaf people to communicate in their own language, ASL, through the use of video phones to just about anyone. It also has had a positive impact on their ability to interact with their family members over the phone. We hear stories of how people have finally started talking with their family members over the phone since this technology was rolled out.

What practical accommodations can companies implement to help employees who are deaf meet their job descriptions?

The first accommodation is to ask the employee what they need to do their job effectively. Then, find out what resources are available to provide this specific accommodation that they need. There are many fine resources in the Rochester area that can help provide these accommodations, including Interpretek and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.

What sorts of things influence how you do business?

First, provide the best possible interpreters for the assignment. The consumer deserves at least that much. Secondly, pay the interpreters on time. For a long time, the interpreting industry was replete with stories of agencies not paying interpreters in a timely manner. Staying with these two very basic tenets has allowed us to retain a strong consumer base as well as cultivate a loyal group of interpreters who provide quality interpreting services through Interpretek.

What would help you do better business in the Rochester area?

What would be helpful is really something good for our community. Rochester has the highest per capita deaf population of any city in America. If Rochester could embrace and celebrate this unique cultural treasure, everybody would benefit. There are thousands of highly talented workers ready to contribute to Rochester's growth who happen to be deaf. For a business looking for talent to fill positions, hiring deaf Rochesterians is not as challenging as it is sometimes made out to be.

This is your first year as a Rochester Top 100 company. What has gotten you to this point?

Dedication from all of our colleagues on the Interpretek team has gotten us to this level. As a team, we have gone through some challenges that may have broken similar companies; however, we have pressed on and rose to the challenge. It all starts with having the right people in the right seats on the team. When you have that, you can go anywhere.

Is there anything the community should be on the lookout for from you in the next year?

Continued growth in the VRS sector, possibly in other locations and increased collaborative opportunities with community organizations for quality access in communication.

© 2007, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle