2002 Conference Proceedings

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INTERNET AND VIDEOCONFERENCING TECHNOLOGIES - ADVANTAGES FOR THE DEAF, DEAFENED AND HARD OF HEARING

Presenters and Authors

David Allen
Executive Director, The Canadian Hearing Society
271 Spadina Rd, Toronto ON Canada,
Voice: (416) 964-9595
Email: dallen@chs.ca 

Marc Serré
Regional Director, The Canadian Hearing Society, Technology Initiatives Department
1233 Paris St, Sudbury ON Canada, P3E 3B6
Voice: (705) 522-1020 TTY: (705) 522-1090
Email: mserre@sudbury.chs.ca 

Nancy Beynon
Area Services Coordinator, The Canadian Hearing Society, Technology Initiatives Department
1233 Paris St, Sudbury ON Canada, P3E 3B6
Voice: (705) 522-1020 TTY: (705) 522-1090
Email: nbeynon@sudbury.chs.ca

Introduction

In 1998, The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) starting researching the possibilities that videoconferencing and the Internet would have for people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. Sign Language is the first language for many Deaf individuals and it cannot be used over regular forms of communication such as the telephone. Even the teletypewriter (TTY), which was developed for the Deaf cannot convey the language. Regional Director of CHS Sudbury, Marc Serré was looking into the possibility that establishing a videoconference network would allow Deaf people to communicate in their language, and access interpreters and other professionals. The Internet is another medium that is growing in popularity and has the possibility to use videoconference, phone TTY users, TTY users to phone others, and share written scripts of oral presentations. Many other organizations and research institutes have been researching and implementing similar networks and technology. This technology holds many advantages for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing individuals including breaking down the barriers of communication.

Development of Technology Initiatives

In 1998, DeafLINKS was developed in Sudbury, Ontario by Marc Serré and his staff at CHS Sudbury. Serré realized the need to offer videoconferencing for services that are offered at CHS and ones offered through other service agencies, especially the under-serviced Ontario Interpreting Services as many Deaf individuals in rural areas do without interpreting services or must travel 200 to 1000 kilometers to the first available Sign Language Interpreter.

The nature of counseling, interpreting and notetaking services offered by The Canadian Hearing Society requires they be provided face to face, one on one, and in real time. Videoconferencing can help service providers communicate with deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people to assess their needs, help them cope with their hearing loss and access essential services. These face-to-face encounters are rather complex to organize because they typically require captioners, notetakers, sign language interpreters and counselors to be in the same room at the same time in order to ensure effective communication. Because these professionals are in very short supply, substantial costs in both travel and downtime to fly specialists to rural areas are incurred, particularly in Northern Ontario. Often a full day's salary for one hour of work to meet the needs of only one client is required. The challenge of serving remote communities is exacerbated in emergency situations because it is almost impossible to rally the necessary specialized professionals to those locations on short notice, thus resulting in clients receiving no services or inadequate. Videoconferencing would be a solution to these problems.

In March 2001, CHS received funding from FedNor to establish a Northern Ontario videoconferencing network and to research the possibility of using the TTY over the Internet. In April 2001, CHS received further funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to install other CHS videoconferencing sites, to implement the TTY Gateway and to research other emerging technologies (i.e. wearable speech recognition system). In September 2001, funding was received from the Ministry of Health to complete the videoconferencing network at every CHS office in Ontario (27 sites). The Ministry of Health grant was given to implement mental health counseling and interpreting across Ontario. Videoconferencing will allow rural and under-serviced areas to access the mental health program. In May 2001, the name DeafLINKS was changed to Technology Initiatives Program (for the deaf, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing).

Implementation

The quality of the equipment, bandwidth and type of transmission is very important for the Deaf to clearly understand the signs and expressions of the users, for the Deafened and Hard of Hearing to speechread and to share notetaking notes. Through testing and research, CHS decided upon purchasing Polycom equipment (ViaVideo, Viewstation H.323 and Viewstation Fx H.323). The supplier, Adcom Videoconferencing had the most competitive cost and services. Polycom equipment also had the best quality that would allow the clarity needed to understand Sign Language. The Fx model allows multi-point call which will allow several sites to take part in meetings, or three-way counseling meetings. The Viavideo model is set up on a desk top or laptop computer where the conversation is normally one-on-one and allows sharing of documents, which is perfect for notetaking.

IP (Internet Protocol) videoconferencing was chosen as the portal. It is essential that the Internet speed is fast - minimum of 384 kbs (Spencer, 2000), and that frames per second are at least 15 (McCaul, 1999), although 30 is ideal. The Internet Service Provider must allow large enough bandwidth so that the picture quality is clear. CHS has been working closely with ViaNet Internet Solutions (originating in Sudbury) to receive a constant quality of services. CHS uses separate high-speed Internet connections at regional offices using cable, fibre optic or DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines). Vianet provides multiple and redundant feeds to the backbone of the Internet, which eliminates the extra layers that other ISPs use to provide connection services. As a result, the number of hops required to connect to distant sites for high priority traffic is reduced.

Technology is never perfect and although there are always glitches found, the feedback has been very supportive. In the Video Relay Interpreting project conducted in Australia, a quote found, "It offers a more personal and "Warmer" method for the Deaf and hearing communities to interact than the text based NRS. Also the direct interaction between the interpreter and Deaf person allows for more accurate interpretation of meaning, emphasis and emotion." (Spencer, 2000, p. 30). In a project conducted through the University of Rochester Medical Center where they have trained interpreters for medical emergencies, a medical provider was quoted "I got more complete information from the patient [compared to] writing back and forth. I had the opportunity to ask more questions...I will use this service every time I see a deaf person" (Pollard, 2001). Videoconferencing has been used by consumers in North Bay and Timmins to access interpreters, job coaches, and counselors (in Timmins, no counselor has been available and many clients have gone without service).

The Impact

The Internet is continuing to grow in popularity. In the past, new technologies are developed for the general public, groups with hearing loss, vision loss and others are often not taken into consideration. With new laws in countries such as The United States and Australia (McCaul, 1999), services such as the World Wide Web must be accessible to people with disabilities. This will help to improve communication, education and employment opportunities for the Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing. CHS has been studying the feasibility of linking the TTY through the Internet so that TTY users could call people with email and the Internet, eliminating the use for Relay Services. Relay Services are not widely accepted (Spencer, 2000) and often communication is not correctly transmitted. The user of a notetaker can be accessed through the Internet (a notetaker types onto a computer what is being said during a meeting, essential for people who cannot hear what is being said). In North Bay, Ontario there are no notetakers and often access a notetaker from Sudbury. The notetaker can either type the transcript through a word processor software and Netmeeting or can share a document through the ViaVideo software.

Through technology initiatives, CHS is showing leadership in developing tools that minimize barriers, as they are emerging, rather than becoming involved later in developing "work-around" solutions to the resulting barriers. These initiatives will make it easier for consumers, especially those currently over age 40, to acquire computer literacy, build an online community, access training opportunities over the Internet, and access an entire range of information.

In Summary

The Technology Initiatives Department in Sudbury has established valuable strategic alliances with Internet Service P roviders, equipment suppliers and research centres. As a result, CHS has established affordable, quality videoconferences using high speed Internet protocol technology. Consumers of The Canadian Hearing Society are living in very exciting and hopeful times. They can count on CHS to deliver services that have a bigger impact on consumer independence. In turn, consumers are now much closer to being linked to mainstream services and eliminating the isolating effects of hearing loss, well into their senior years.

References
McCaul, Thomas F. (1999). Video-based Telecommunications Technology and The Deaf Community; Research Summary of the Report. Australian Communication Exchange Ltd, Commonwealth of Australia.

Pollard, Robert (2001). Videoconferencing Interpreting Project; Presentation. University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York.

Spencer, Renee (2000). Video Relay Interpreting Tiral Final Report. Australian Communication Exchange.


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