Immediate Video Communication: Access for People who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing plus Speech Disabled in an IP World

A few months ago, I received a note from a woman within New Mexico, recounting her latest experience in making a 911 contact. She had fallen in the girl home, alone, badly hurt plus bleeding. She dialed 911, attained an emergency center, an ambulance had been dispatched and she was taken to the medical facility.

You might be wondering why someone would compose to the Chairman of the FCC in regards to a 911 call. The reason is that this had been an emergency for someone who is hard of hearing and the call was made through Video Relay Service (VRS), a program administered by the FCC. The woman got never before had a reason to make an emergency call and, when she produced the call, she wondered whether the technology would work.

Most of us take for granted that when we make a phone call, the phone call goes through. You call from any type of device to any phone number. You do not think about how the call travels – via circuit or packet, period division or code division, copper or fiber, 1 . 9 Gigahertz or 700 MHz Networks are interconnected. Telecommunications software is increasingly interoperable.

Now, imagine that heard with your eyes. You contact family and friends by video calling and your native language is American Sign Language (ASL). And when you call the hearing person who does not speak a foreign language, the call is automatically routed on the internet through a VRS sign language interpreter who conveys what you want to communicate to the hearing person. The VRS interpreter voices everything you sign to the hearing person and signs back again everything that the hearing person says.

One hundred and twenty-five million minutes of these three-way calls took place last year between deaf plus hearing persons. Calls most of us take for granted. Routine calls, work calls, calls to friends and family, calls to authorities offices, to businesses. And calls to 911. To quote our own friend in New Mexico: “911 VP [videophone] conserved my leg, and probably the life…y’all done good, very good. ”

The bad news in this good news story is that whilst digital technology has opened the door to making such a call without a 3rd party relay interpreter, that capability is extremely limited. Most federal agencies, for example, don’t have direct video access for those who communicate in ASL. Neither do most companies.

Since June 2014, however , the FCC has been operating a video-equipped “ASL Consumer Support Line” to allow consumers that use ASL to get their questions answered by signing to FCC staff who communicate in ASL. The Internet makes this process easier than ever. Rather than requiring a special phone to make the contact, any person who is deaf can sign over the Internet using any computer or mobile device with a camera. Also, it is not hard to set up similar apparatus at the receiving end.

Based on the success at the FCC and the advance of technology, it is now time for you to expand direct video calling over and above the FCC and make it offered to all levels of government and businesses who answer consumer inquiries. Since the federal agency responsible for the marketing communications of all Americans, the FCC is definitely embarking on a year-long, two-part process to expand direct video connectivity for deaf, hard of hearing, and speech disabled individuals who communicate in ASL.

The first step in this process is evangelizing the achievements of the FCC’s ASL Consumer Assistance Line. The simultaneous second step in this process is to harness technology to be able to easier for both the ASL caller plus recipient to talk to each other. Building on this experience, we are constructing a “cut out the middleman” Video Access Platform for callers and call-takers. By this time next year we will possess in the market an application usable on any fixed or mobile operating system which will bring up a list of participating agencies plus companies. All an ASL-user will need to do is click or faucet on who they want to talk to and the call will be connected to someone fluent in ASL. For those receiving the calls, the platform’s open APIs will enable easy interoperability.

After seeing what the FCC did, the Small Business Administration, to their great credit, has adopted our own approach. Other federal agencies, particularly those with high call volumes, like the Social Security Administration and INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, should consider offering direct video calling as well. The same should hold accurate for those companies with large numbers of clients who are deaf, hard of hearing and speech disabled. Hiring a good ASL signer to respond to immediate video communication from these customers makes all the sense in the world. Not only will this facilitate communication access; if the individuals hired have a disability themselves, this can also increase their employment opportunities.

This won’t eliminate the need for third-party sign language interpretation to communicate outside of the platform, but for those authorities agencies and large companies with a high volume of callers who are hard of hearing, hard of hearing and speech-disabled, it should be a no brainer. One government company, for instance, handled 3. 1 million moments of interpreted (VRS) calls last year. One telephone company handled one 3 million minutes from people who use ASL last year.

The necessity is self-evident; 125 million video-assisted minutes last year speaks for alone. The FCC’s new platform can enable any agency or organization to communicate directly with an essential part of their constituency or customer base. This isn’t the final step, but it is a crucial step to putting all Americans on equal footing for marketing communications and information.


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