Utah company debuts videophone for the deaf

Salt Lake Tribune Vince Horiuchi, The Salt lake Tribune, October 5, 2011

It’s not the much-hyped announcement of the new iPhone, but Sorenson Communications® also introduced new hardware this week that was more anticipated by the deaf community.

The Taylorsville company, which researches and develops communications services and systems for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, introduced Wednesday the new version of its video relay service, a type of videophone.

Called ntouch VP Videophone, the third-generation device is a processor and minicamera that users can hook up to a television for phone conversations with an interpreter.

The device has a newly designed interface, better-quality video, a separate webcam-like camera (in the older version, the camera was built into the box) and sign email that allows callers to leave a message with an interpreter. The phone also has a ring of flashing lights that can blink in different patterns for a form of visual caller ID.

“Our video quality is much higher than before,” Sorenson president and chief executive Pat Nola said, highlighting the biggest feature of the new version.

When a person using the device calls, an interpreter at one of Sorenson’s call centers is connected and translates the conversation in American Sign Language to the deaf caller. Calls between two deaf users can also be made if both have the videophone. Use of the phone requires a high-speed broadband connection.

The very first Sorenson videophone was introduced about 10 years ago, Nola said. Sorenson also produces software for the PC and an app for Android-based smartphones that uses a webcam on the computer or the front-facing camera on the phone to make similar video-relay-service calls. Last August, Sorenson also debuted a telephone called CaptionCall for people with partial hearing loss that captions phone conversations.

The ntouch videophone is available for free by going to www.svrs.com/ntouch. The phone and service is paid for through a surcharge on telephone bills under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In Utah, about 5,000 people, or 2 percent of the population, are deaf and use American Sign Language, according to the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “[Videophones] really opened up the world for me,” said Sarah Parker, Sorenson’s market research manager, who is deaf. “I can communicate without hearing peers to make the calls for me. I feel like I can do anything except hear.”

From The Salt Lake Tribune. Reprinted with permission. Back to Article List