Deaf and hard-of-hearing members of Team Edwards were recently notified that they are getting new tools to enable their workplace communication.
The DOD’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program funded the purchase of video communication devices that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to make calls via a monitor on their phone connected to a relay interpreter. The interpreter will act as a relay between the deaf and hearing individuals by interpreting their American Sign Language into speech or by signing another person’s speech into ASL.
Use of these videophones will facilitate conversation to naturally flow between Edwards deaf or hard-of-hearing workers and a hearing person.
The phones feature built-in eye level cameras, which combined with LCD screens, enable two-way communication between the communicators.
“One big hurdle to acquiring these tools was getting permission from the Integrated Network Operations and Security Center-East to allow the 95th Communications Squadron to send video across the network like we do data,” said Joe Lindsay, 95th CS program manager for the videophone project. “It took two years from developing the requirement, through getting all the approvals from the agency managing the Global Information Grid, the Defense Information Systems Agency, to this point where we are installing the videophones on the network for each person’s use.”
Three members of the EAFB Network protection team, Adam Longoria, William Gamboa and Staff Sgt. Michael Burd (all members of 95th CS Operations Flight) also played key roles in getting the videophones authorized as network devices.
Another important aspect of allowing the phones to be used at Edwards is where they will be placed. Videophones transmit video over the network so they have unique security requirements that must be met in order to be permitted to communicate between Air Force offices or between government and non-government offices.
While they can sit on a person’s desk and be used as daily communication devices just like telephones, as they transmit video, they can only be used in an unclassified environment.
Despite the hurdles and complexities Lindsey, and the other members of the 95th CS dedicated to making videophones a reality at Edwards, prevailed.
“I am very grateful we are receiving videophones as they will give the deaf members of Team Edwards a voice in our workplace,” said Mike Botte, an information technology professional in the squadron who received one of the videophones. “These devices will change our lives here by enabling us to communicate with our colleagues, our customers and our bosses. We will become more independent – less reliant on email and interpreters. Using the conference call capability on the videophone, we’ll be able to participate in last minute meetings. These devices will empower all of us to contribute more of our value to the Center’s mission than ever before.”
The aspect of supporting communication between deaf and hard-of-hearing employees for meetings is an important one said Alfred Wilson, Air Force Flight Test Center Equal Opportunity Office director.
“These videophones will help reduce the burden on my office to contract for and coordinate sign language interpreters to drive out to Edwards to support meetings, commander’s calls and other key communication events between employees who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and their colleagues and leaders,” Wilson said.
Lt. Col. Keith Repik, 95th CS commander, said the acquisition and installation of the videophones provide a new capability that will further enable the workforce to team together.
“This capability is another service we are striving to deliver – easily accessible, customer friendly choices of voice, video and/or data to further enhance the collaborating opportunities for members of Team Edwards.”