Local News

Video Phone Aids Communication for the Deaf

Posted October 4, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— The next time you pick up the phone to dial a friend think about how easy it is to make a call. It's not easy for everyone, especially those who are hearing impaired. A new technology in place in North Carolina is helping to 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 Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf makes a new way of communicating possible.

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

His message is clear because a live operator is in the middle of the conversation. She watches his sign language, then speaks his words to the person on the other line. Until now, deaf students could only type their phone conversations over a special modem. Students complained that it was slow 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 completely visual.

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

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

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