Saturday, June 13, 2009

New Zealand deaf community gets video relay services

From The Dominion Post. In the picture, Shannon Morris of Deaf Aotearoa on VRS says, "It's more comfortable for us to talk in our language."

Deaf people now have a phone service letting them talk in real time.

For the first time they can order a pizza over the phone or call family and friends in their first language, sign language.

With the Video Relay Service, deaf or hearing-impaired people communicate by video phone or webcam with an interpreter using sign language and relaying the conversation.

For Shannon Morris, making her first VRS phone call was "really cool". "It certainly feels different talking to a person, it's more natural to be able to sign to the person at the other end.

"It's more comfortable for us to talk in our language, rather than use a second language."

New Zealand Relay, a telecommunications service for deaf, hearing and speech- impaired, began the five-month VRS trial last week. It will run for four hours each weekday from a call centre in Pukekohe and cost the Government $610,000. Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Rachel Noble said the advanced technology would open work opportunities to deaf people as inability to use a phone was often a barrier to employment.

It would also make everyday tasks such as parents calling schools, getting quotes from trades people or ordering takeaways a reality. Ms Noble said VRS was about equality and ensuring deaf people had access to the same services as hearing people. More than 40 people were signing on to VRS and it had six qualified interpreters.

The Government is to again fund 20 university scholarships for people to become interpreters.

More than 29,000 Kiwis use sign language. In the last census it was the 12th most used language of 190. It is recognised as one of New Zealand's three official languages.