Phone helps impaired woman reunite with classmates

Device the first of its kind in the Silver Valley

June 5, 2008 By Robert Deane, Staff Writer, Shoshone News Press

ELK CREEK - As a student at the Clark School for the Deaf in Northhampton, Mass., Theresa Prichard was taught to not use sign language to communicate.

Prichard, who is deaf but can hear with the help of hearing aides, picked up sign language during her travels after she graduating from Clark in 1976. Prichard would come to the Silver Valley in the mid-1990s with her roommate of 12 years Dwain Davis, who she says has been one of her best friends.

From the time she left Clark however, Prichard has - as Davis put it - been in a "dark world" having not communicated with another hearing impaired person for over 32 years.

"Theresa's world has been pretty small with selective friends," said Davis.

Davis added that most people do not understand what it is like to be deaf, as many have mistakenly attached the stigma that her disability is in someway a mental handicap. The roommate and friend clarified that there is a misperception of a lack of education when the hearing impaired often cannot use certain syllables or pronunciations and punctuation with sign language.

Prichard agreed remembering her time going to high school in Idaho Falls which she says was a very tough experience.

"People did not understand me and picked on me," said Prichard.

But a special delivery last Saturday brought a smile to Prichard's face as it changed everything. She had a Video Phone 200 installed in her Elk Creek home allowing video communication with one of her former Clark classmates Kim Grievson in Rochester, NY.

Grievson recently wrote Prichard in an email, telling her about the Video Phone 200 and how it has helped her communicate with other hearing impaired people from Clark. The device provides a two-way video connection through Prichard's television with the use of an Internet router.

The Video Phone 200 is a product from Sorenson Video Relay Service that allows the deaf or hard-of-hearing to make video-relay calls with friends, family and business associates through a certified ASL interpreter for free through a high speed Internet connection and a video relay solution, according to www.sorensonvrs.com.

The video relay solution allows the caller to see the person they are contacting on the other side of the connection and communicate via sign, if the person is hearing impaired or through an ASL interpreter if the person they are contacting can hear.

For Prichard, the VP 200 has reopened a door that has been closed for three decades allowing her to contact her former classmates at Clark.

"It has put happiness in my life by allowing me to talk to other deaf people who are my family," said Prichard.

Grievson said when she and Prichard first spoke to each other, that Teresa cried because it was the first time they had seen each other in over thirty years, an experience Prichard said was very anxious and overwhelming.

Since acquiring the VP 200, Prichard has contacted over 200 former classmates from Clark, while Grievson has contacted over a 1,000 former classmates.

"I have a lot of fun with it because I get to talk to people I knew all day long, or call people back who leave messages," said Grievson.

Grievson said the video phone makes life easier on people with her and Prichard's disability because it allows them to be able to see each other when they communicate.

Davis said it also allows them to be themselves when they communicate without the stigma.

"They can communicate in their own way since they were not allowed to use sign," said Davis. "It has opened a big door for them."

Many of Grievson's and Prichard's friends from Clark have spread out around the United States and overseas including: Florida, Texas, California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Maine, Germany and Australia making the video phone useful in communication because it helps them get over the communication barriers and becoming in many ways their whole world.

"I love the VP 200 and cannot live without it," said Grievson. "It is my whole world because it gets us over the communication barriers, most people are comfortable with the VP 200 because it offers quicker conversation than other devices."

Prichard agreed and also sees the VP 200 as a better alternative to for the deaf community because of the benefits it offers that other devices or procedures do not.

"It allows you to be yourself and not mess with your head," said Prichard.

Prichard says she and Grievson are now trying to find other classmates from the Clark school they have not contacted yet.

The video phone has also opened the door for Prichard to meet other people of the deaf community locally.

"A woman from the Coeur d' Alene has started a deaf club and has asked me to join," said Prichard. "I might do it but gas prices are high."

For Prichard, this is an exciting time after years of feeling alone and disconnected.

"It's really exciting and has brought a smile to my face to see all of these people," said Prichard.

From The Shoshone News Press. Reprinted with permission. Back to Article List