Video Phone System Makes Calls Easier for Deaf - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

10/19/04

Video Phone System Makes Calls Easier for Deaf

Ricky signs with an interpreter on his TV. Ricky signs with an interpreter on his TV.
 

Bird lover Ricky Snipes of Savannah lives in a colorful world of parrots and cockatoos. But it's a world of silence.

"When my mom, during the pregnancy, she had German measles," Ricky explained. "So I was born deaf because of that."

Talking with us through an American Sign Language interpreter, Ricky explained how written English is still a challenge for him. "It's a real challenge," he said. "Because my English skills, when I have to write back and forth with hearing people, it's really challenging."

More than just the writing or the typing, it's also due to the fact that English is very much his second language.

Thanks to a high-speed internet connection and the Sorenson VP-100 system, a sort of video phone hooked up to a TV, he can keep in touch with distant friends and family much more easily now.

In the old TTY system, Ricky had to type his message into a computer for a relay operator to read to a hearing person on the phone. Then the operator had to type the response for Ricky to read.

Now Ricky can sign in real time with an interpreter over the video system, who speaks with the hearing party on the other end. And when roommate Terry places a call to a deaf friend in Florida who's on the same system, they can bypass the interpreter altogether.

"And it was just like wow, you know, you can just chat back and forth, it was great," Ricky said. "I can set the TTY aside. It's gotten all dusty now, cause you know it's just sitting there."

Ricky may never hear his birds, but he'll be able to tell distant friends all about them. And the best part is that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the government picks up the tab. Though Ricky must pay for his broadband internet access, the VP-100 hardware and all his calls are free to him.

Reported by: Charles Gray, cgray@wtoc.com

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