Thursday, December 04, 2008

To help those who cannot hear

I have written below about our wonderful interpeters, who offer assistance to patients who do not speak in English. As part of this program, we also offer American Sign Language (ASL) interpeters for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Now, comes a new wrinkle, arriving in the next few weeks. Here's the explanation provided to me by one of the folks in our interpreter group:

BIDMC will soon have its own public videophone in the Shapiro Lobby (our main ambulatory care building) for use by deaf and hard of hearing patients and their families. Videophones, which can now be found in the homes and offices of most deaf people, consist of a regular television and a video conferencing unit with a high-speed internet connection. With this set-up, deaf people can make and receive "phone calls" and speak in their first language, ASL, by connecting with other people who have the same device. This allows deaf people to converse in ASL. Since English is a second language for most deaf people, this a tremendous improvement.

Deaf people can also use the Video Relay Service by using the same videophone, like the one we'll have in our lobby, to connect with a call center staffed by professional ASL interpreters. This means that deaf people can call any hearing person who has a standard phone; the interpreter sees the deaf person and interprets his or her message from ASL into spoken English. (See image above). The interpreter, who is connected on a standard phone line with the hearing person, can interpret the reply from spoken English back to ASL. Conversations are more natural this way and there are even interpreters available to interpret from ASL to spoken Spanish.

To the best of our knowledge, BIDMC's public videophone will be one of the first of its kind available in a public hospital lobby in the Northeast. The Shapiro Lobby public videophone will give equal access to the deaf community to make phone calls while they are in the medical center.

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