Earlier this year deaf and hard-of-hearing members of Team Edwards got new, free tools to enable their workplace communication as part of DOD’s Computer/Electronic Accomodations Program designed to empower supervisors with the means to eliminate barriers to employing people with disabilities.
Rosa Black and Mike Botte, both of the 412th Communications Squadron, were among six employees here who received the videophones this past March.
The phones feature built-in cameras, combined with LCD screens, enabling two-way communication between deaf and hearing individuals, augmented by an interpreter. The videophones transmit video of Botte and Black who communicate using American Sign Language to a remote interpreter located at a video relay center. The video relay service provides real-time interpreting between the deaf person and the hearing person they are talking to.
Black and Botte have been using the phones for the past six months to communicate with their colleagues here at Edwards.
“The cool thing about these tools is that they are communication systems,” said Robin Holmes, Black’s supervisor. “American Sign Language has a distinct grammar and syntax quite different from English. The way we, as English speakers, put nouns and verbs together in oral English to make clear sentences isn’t done in ASL.”
The videophone, combined with the relay service, transmits video to an interpreter who signs into ASL or vice versa. The interpreter translates ASL into English and English into ASL augmenting and filling in any gaps in grammar or syntax as they interpret.
“I am not a good English speaker,” said Black. “Before Videophones I had to ask for help from my colleagues to correct my grammar. My coworkers and my supervisors had to call my cubicle mates to tell me something. Also, I have trouble spelling and using the right words. When I got my videophone – wow! Now I can talk to all my co-workers, to my supervisors, to everyone without worrying about miscommunication or misunderstandings. Today, my co-workers and colleagues call me more than they email. I am very happy with the videophone sitting on my desk. I feel I am equal with my hearing co-workers.”
Botte has used his videophone to dialog with customers and co-workers in identifying software components in building software for use here at Edwards.
“Like most members of the Deaf Community, ASL is my preferred mode of communication. It is a visual language as well as my natural language. This language cannot be conveyed through e-mail or instant messaging or even notepad writing. To have an interpreter with me all day where I can use “my” language is wishful thinking and totally unfeasible but, having access to a videophone opens the world to me. It makes it possible for me to communicate with anyone 24/7. I am very thankful for the videophone – I feel like I have my own personal interpreter,” said Botte.
“It’s like having a real-live interpreter in our meetings and on our desks. The value of having the videophones augmented with the video relay service is a powerful communication tool helping accomplish our mission,” said Botte’ supervisor, Mike Parish.
The six videophones Edwards employees received last spring were bought by CAP, a program in the TRICARE Management Activity, a component of the Military Health System. CAP is centrally funded by the DOD to provide assistive technology to all federal agencies who are employing people with disabilities including military and civilian members; additionally the program has been extended to cover wounded service members and military dependents. By providing assistive technology and services free of charge CAP helps the federal government make their work and military home environments accessible to people with disabilities including hearing, visual, mobility, cognitive and communication. CAP provides a full range of services to supervisors who are considering hiring a candidate with a disability; to wounded service members to support them through all phases of recovery and transition to employment; and to military dependents to support them through their school years.
CAP services include:
Buying accommodations to make computer and telecommunications systems accessible to employees with disabilities, wounded service members and dependents as required by public law
- Providing expertise in solving accessibility problems through the use of software, hardware, and other assistive technology
- Conducting needs assessments to identify the most appropriate solution for each person requesting an accommodation and assisting with the accommodation process
- Providing guidance on creating an accessible computer and telecommunication environment within an organization
- Assisting with the recruitment, placement, promotion, and retention of people with disabilities
- Funding personal assistants for employees attending training lasting two days or more
For more information on CAP visit http://cap.mil/Customers/DoDEmployees.aspx.
As noted, CAP also plays a key role in ensuring that injured military service members returning from deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have appropriate accommodations and support services for their needs during recovery and rehabilitation at Military Treatment Facilities and post recovery in transition to employment.