The Library of Congress has become one of the first federal agencies to implement an agency-wide “videophone” system that enables its deaf staff members who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with both hearing and deaf individuals. Using the videophones, deaf staff members can place Video Relay Service (VRS) calls, which are “relayed” through an ASL interpreter at a call center, to hearing individuals. Likewise, using the videophones, deaf individuals can place point-to-point calls with other deaf people who use ASL.
“This is another example of the Library’s commitment to be on the cutting edge of providing reasonable accommodations via assistive technology,” said Eric Eldritch, the Library’s access programs manager. “The Library hopes to position itself as an employer of choice for persons with disabilities and be a model of accessibility and universal design for other federal agencies.”
Video relay calls are placed over a high-speed Internet connection through an easy-to-use Sorenson VP-200 videophone connected to a television or computer monitor with RCA inputs. The deaf user connects to an ASL interpreter and, over the videophone and visual display, signs to the interpreter, who then contacts the hearing user via a standard phone line and relays the conversation in ASL and English between the two parties. Hearing customers can also place video relay calls to any deaf or hard-of-hearing individual by simply dialing the toll-free number 1-866-FAST-VRS (1-866-327-8877) with a standard telephone.
Equipment, training and support for the video relay service was supplied free of charge by Sorenson Communications, one of the Video Relay Service (VRS) companies compensated from a federal fund created as a result of Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The Library of Congress developed the secure internal network on which the VRS is installed and supplied the monitors to all deaf staff members who serve in a variety of positions throughout the Library of Congress.
Alex Richey, chair of the Library of Congress Deaf Association, said, “We are proud that the Library is providing videophone technology. Because I do not have to translate and type my comments into English, I can make routine calls faster in my natural language.”
Doug Meick, program manager in Information Technology Services for the Library’s Assistive Technology Demonstration Center, added, “This technology greatly improves the ability of our deaf colleagues to conduct their daily business and underscores the Library of Congress’ commitment to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We hope other agencies will see our partnership with private industry, follow our example and take advantage of this federally funded service.”