Sounds in Silence

Tri-city Voice Logo William Marshak. Tri-City Voice, October 14, 2011

"A mobster's deaf nephew needed a job..." begins a tale told by Ronald Burdett, Vice President of Community Relations for Sorenson Communications®. Engrossed in the story, it is easy to forget that the narrator is actually two people: the person telling the story using American Sign Language enhanced by body language and expressive facial characterizations... and a skilled interpreter. Bridging the communication gap between deaf and hearing communities in the United States has come a long way from the days of Alexander Graham Bell who, while promoting communication for both deaf and hearing people and married to a deaf woman, retained a curiously antithetical attitude toward deafness.

Although attitudes in both hearing and deaf communities vary, there is little debate that communication within each group and between them is essential. What may be taken for granted by those with hearing, can become a formidable obstacle for deaf people. Several companies, Sorenson Communications chief among them, have concentrated on serving the deaf community through technology that enhances the speed and accuracy of deaf-to-deaf and deaf-to-hearing communication. Some communications, critical as 9-1-1 service or mundane as voice mail, present challenges when attempting to transmit information quickly and accurately. How is a message left when the receiving party is unavailable? How much time is wasted when essential information is required to respond to an emergency?

Voice Relay Service has been a great help allowing typed messages from a deaf person to be spoken, in turn, to a hearing person. This can be slow and cumbersome and even when computer email systems allow direct communication, there is little to speed up a one-way transfer then waiting to allow another one-way transfer for dialogue. Video relay services have helped to speed up the process, but without rapid communication and local assistance, efficient resolution of emergency situations can be problematic.

The Sorenson Communications group presentation at California School for the Deaf in Fremont on October 6 was met with enthusiastic applause (hand waves) by the audience. Introducing the unique "ntouch® VP Videophone, the newest in a series of communication devices with innovative features such as a light ring that flashes with a unique pattern to signal and identify favored callers and auto-focused high resolution video transmission. Sorenson also provides intensive training for interpreters to facilitate the enhanced video message system.

The ability for deaf customers to send and receive phone calls through signing rather than laborious typing and waiting for a reply is a quantum leap. A unique phone number to send, receive and hold video calls also represents a major change. Videophones take a variety of forms including an appliance for television sets and computers to software for hand-held devices and mobile apps. According to Burdett, these systems are built specifically for the deaf community to accommodate their requirements since other devices typically have been developed with hearing customers in mind.

As a consequence, many "advantages" of phones designed for hearing people and are of little or no use to deaf consumers. Swift, in-focus transmission of visual signals is critical to capture quick body movements and facial expressions of American Sign Language. In emergency situations, fast transmission of information may be the difference to assure success.

To demonstrate the importance of communication and the critical function of a qualified and honest interpreter, Burdett finished his story:

The nephew was hired to collect payoffs from mob "clients." As weeks went by, collections failed to equal amounts due and the uncle became suspicious. Through an interpreter, he asked his nephew about the discrepancy. At first the nephew denied any wrongdoing, but facing a fatal consequence, he quickly confessed that he had buried the money under a nearby tree. The interpreter translated his confession... "I didn't take the money; I don't know where it is!"... And the nephew was dispatched. Guess who got the money!

From The Tri-City Voice. Reprinted with permission. Back to Article List