Monday, October 26, 2009

Video link puts deaf on phone

Source Link - Video link puts deaf on phone

Deaf people living in Northland are testing a system that allows them to talk on the phone using sign language.

The new video relay service (VRS) involves a sign-language interpreter acting as a link between the deaf or hearing impaired person using a video screen and the person on the other end of the phone line.

The system can be used through the internet or a videophone.

Earlier this month it was demonstrated at the Deaf Aotearoa office in Deveron St, Whangarei, as part of the nationwide, government-funded trial to gauge the likely uptake of the system.

Local co-ordinator Glenys Walkinshaw said many of the service's 200 Northland clients were keen to see the system operating as soon as possible.

The system has been available in some Western countries for many years.

"Anyone who doesn't have the right equipment at home can come and use ours," Ms Walkinshaw said.

Sign language is one of the three official languages of New Zealand and is used partially or fully by more than 29,000 people every day.

Advocacy group Deaf Aotearoa said the system would allow sign language users to fully communicate in their natural language.

Using full-motion video meant their facial expression and cues would be also be picked up by the interpreter to ensure nothing was lost in translation.

Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Rachel Noble said that, as well as making life easier in general, the service would open work opportunities for deaf people. Often the inability to use the telephone was a barrier to finding work.

"It is really about equality and ensuring that deaf people have access to the same services as hearing people. It is amazing that technology has advanced to this stage and we are very grateful to the Government for making this possible," Ms Noble said.

The five-month trial, which operates for four hours each weekday, will run until early November.

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