Salt Lake Company Simplifies Deaf Communications

Friday, June 20, 2008 By Elizabeth Ziegler, KCPW Radio

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(KCPW News)-Few people can imagine life without such modern conveniences as the telephone and voice mail. But for the deaf community, the ease of dialing a number and getting instantly in touch with friends and family isn't so simple. KCPW's Elizabeth Ziegler talks with Salt Lake City's Sorenson Communications about an innovation unveiled this week.

In the past, it took two phone numbers for people to call their deaf family and friends. A Salt Lake City company has found a way to make a single call connection over a videophone, or VP. A single Sorenson Communications number will instantly connect a caller to a deaf person's videophone and an American Sign Language interpreter. Sorenson employee Shari Bailey, who is deaf herself, says the technology is liberating.

"Before we had the direct VP number it was really difficult because I would have to put down my parents' phone number instead of mine because there was no way to put down two phone numbers," Bailey says. "By doing this I felt like I wasn't independent and I wanted to be independent and be able to make my own phone calls and receive my own phone calls."

Sorenson Communications president Pat Nola says the company first marketed videophones, for the deaf six years ago, after a group of deaf employees approached him with the idea. Now, the company is an industry leader. He likens the videophone and the direct VP number to the discovery of the telephone more than 100 years ago.

"It's definitely the state-of-the-art communications device. It's the same transformation that occurred when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Where prior to that, people were selling telegraphs, you know, using Morse code and using Morse code isn't your natural language - you'd rather just speak," Nola says. "Well, that same transformation has just recently occurred in the deaf community. So it's a pretty big deal."

As for the company's next product, another deaf Sorenson employee has some novel ideas. Speaking through interpreter Bonnie Bass, Sarah Parker explains.

"Well, there's a lot, actually. One idea I have, is that it would be nice to have an answering machine on the videophone. We have a type of voice mail, but it connects through the Internet," Parker says. "So it would be nice if we could have an answering machine on our videophone. But, I am so thankful to be able to even have the ability to get messages now."

The new direct videophone number is available to the deaf free. It is subsidized by a fee on phone bills. For a link to the service, go to our Web site, kcpw.org.

From KCPW. Reprinted with permission Back to Article List