June 25, 2008

Video System Opens New Avenue of Communication

By Ed Waters Jr., The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Jun. 23--Deaf and hard-of-hearing residents now have an alternative to using the time-consuming TTY telephone system to communicate.

Communication Service for the Deaf in Frederick has launched its Video Relay Service, provided free to deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers. In a demonstration at the CSD office at 452 Prospect Blvd., Karen Sheffer-Tucker, division director, contacted an interpreter using a videophone. The interpreter then called a number Sheffer-Tucker gave and she was able to visually sign with the person.

Aaron Wegehaupt, vice president of operations for VRS in Clearwater, Fla., said the system creates a more personal communication between the users.

"It is much better in person than e-mail or texting," he said. The system is cost-free for the users, paid for under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the company's website, www.csdvrs.com. Users must have a high-speed Internet connection.

The video system is a separate entity from CSD, based in Sioux Falls, S.D. Funding comes from long distance telephone companies that are required to pay a percentage of revenue from subscribers into a national telecommunications relay services fund.

The system also has a message system that records the communication using an interpreter who signs the message and sends it to the customer's e-mail.

VRS personnel will come to homes, offices or schools to set up the system and provide a videophone, according to the website. For those who have a Web camera, software will be provided free.

The system also can be used by the hearing. Individuals or businesses can call 1-866-926-8877 and give the full name of the person they want to contact or the deaf person's assigned video mail number.

Sheffer-Tucker said her office has a staff of three, plus interpreters who are being trained to use the VRS network.

CSD has been operating at its present location for six years, providing interpreter services, American Sign Language classes, cultural sensitivity awareness training, a visual smoke detector program and others designed to help the deaf or hard-of-hearing, and bridge the communication gap between them and the hearing community.

Sheffer-Tucker said her office helps about 1,000 people a month with services.

For information, e-mail [email protected] or videophone


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