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Video Phone Aids Communication for the Deaf

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WILSON — The next time you pick up the phone to dial a friend think about how easyit is to make a call. It's not easy for everyone, especially those who arehearing impaired. A new technology in place in North Carolina is helpingto make the impossible a reality.

For Quanat Best, a simple phone call is miles ahead of what he's used to.Best is deaf. He uses sign language to talk, and until now, spontaneous phone conversations weren't possible. But a new video phone at the EasternNorth Carolina School for the Deaf makes a new way of communicatingpossible.

"It has a person there with relay, and I can talk to them quickly, I cansign to the person," said Best. "It's very clear."

His message is clear because a live operator is in the middle of theconversation. She watches his sign language, then speaks his words to theperson on the other line. Until now, deaf students could only type theirphone conversations over a special modem. Students complained that it wasslow and hard to interpret.

Some people's reading skills may not be sufficient to make typing conversations a smooth source for communication, but the VRI is completelyvisual.

Officials at the school said they believe the VRI is something that willbe in homes in later years.

The new phone is in place in nine locations across the state. MCI hopes toset up additional sites as the program catches on. But for Best, the bigpicture is no more important than this single conversation where thepower and emotions of his hands can go anywhere.

Just like any other phone, the students have to pay extra for long distancecalls. MCI hopes to install the system in more schools as the conceptcatches on.

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