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Deaf Video

Video conferencing technology keeps improving and has become a usable means of communication. One group has been left out of this revolution, the deaf and hard of hearing community. Charles Bornstein reports on one company working to change that.

Many electronic gadgets marketed today focus on entertainment. Video conferencing devices, on the other hand, hold the promise of much greater potential applications. One company has developed a video conferencing unit for deaf and hard of hearing users. At the recent Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, Viable unveiled the VPAD, a device which enables mobile video communication for the deaf.

Viable spokesperson Glenn Lockhart says that technology is having a great impact on deaf people — such as himself. Here he speaks through a sign language interpreter.

I come from a fourth generation deaf family. In the 1930s, 1940s people used the telephone; that was their main source of communications. My grandmother and grandfather couldn’t. They had to walk to their neighbors house, write them a note…’Do you mind making this call for me?’, the note would say. We don’t need to walk to our neighbor’s house anymore. With the video based solutions, you can just sign.and speak at your normal conversational flow. And that’s important to us.

Users with VPads on both ends can communicate using Sign Language. And users can communicate with hearing users through relay operators. Continuing to sign to an interpreter, Lockhart says that the VPAD was designed to meet the specific needs of deaf people.

A lot of the videophones on the market are not really for the deaf and hard of hearing community. It’s not very smooth…the video quality. We need to be able to fingerspell clearly. We don’t want to position ourselves too close to the screen, so we need a larger screen….our screen is 10.2 inches. The camera positioning at the top gives a better sightline. We made it a touch screen as well…. it’s more user intuitive.

The VPad is a self contained mobile device which Lockhart thinks will give the deaf community a greater degree of freedom. All it needs is a wireless internet connection.

It is a hearing world out there. And that’s why this company was founded. Because no one is going to make a videophone for the deaf and hard of hearing. It’s up to the deaf and hard of hearing community, to sometimes innovate technology for themselves.

Lockhart sees Viable and the VPad as examples of self empowerment in the deaf community. The company is deaf owned, with mostly deaf employees.

Charles Bornstein, Houston Public Radio News

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