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William Prentice chats with an interpreter during a demonstration call. Photo by Michelle Chance

 

Maricopa Resident William “Wilz” Prentice is one of an estimated 5,000 people living in Maricopa who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Prentice, who was born deaf, demonstrated Monday morning new technology that could revolutionize telecommunication for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in the city.

The service was launched by the Maricopa Public Library Aug. 20 and is free to the public.

The new VideoPhone program aims to make communication services for those who use American Sign Language more accessible.

“This makes it a lot easier, a lot faster to communicate than the old TTY system,” Prentice said through an interpreter.

Considered outdated, TTY technology utilized phone and text through an interpreter to communicate. The service was complicated and required its users to have regular access to the equipment.

The new VideoPhone services at the library allow anyone to place video calls through their smart phone or on the library’s computer outfitted with a webcam to anyone in the country.

An interpreter, appearing by video, is available on the other line for calls placed to someone who does not use ASL.

Cindy Price is fluent in ASL and assisted in interpreting conversations during demonstrations Monday.

Price said the free VideoPhone service is one less barrier for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

“Having access at the library is great because if they really need to communicate, they can come here. It’s free. They don’t have to have additional resources so it’s actually a great equalizer for them,” Price said.

Fred Greenspan, who is hard of hearing, spearheaded the effort to bring VideoPhone services to Maricopa.

Greenspan believes the new program will help those who don’t have videophone ability on their cell phones and those hunting for a job.

“A person who is deaf can do anything,” Greenspan said.

An advocate for the Deaf community, Greenspan directed local politicians to try the technology themselves, including Congressman Tom O’Halleran, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer and Mayor Christian Price.

Calls were placed to O’Halleran’s office in Washington, D.C., the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Topeka, and others.

Volkmer and Casa Grande Public Library Manager Amber Kent expressed interest in implementing the service throughout Pinal County. The program is paid for by taxes on phone bills.

The presentation, the first of its kind locally, was educational for many.

“We are one of the few in the county that has this, and I learned a lot today,” said Mayor Price. “It’s revelatory. It really is.”

System instruction is available during Library hours: Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

The Maricopa Public Library in Arizona launches VideoPhone technology and service for use by deaf and hard of hearing community members who use ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate. Deaf patrons who lack smart phones or high-speed Internet at home can access the Video Relay System (VRS) to call just about anyone instead of relying on family members, friends or older and antiquated TTY technology.

When: Aug. 20, 9 a.m.
Where: Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
Who: Everyone invited

The idea to have this free service available to those who lack auditory and vocal acuity and who use ASL (American Sign Language), was initiated and coordinated by Fred Greenspan President of Tylin Promotions based in the City of Maricopa. Greenspan is the developer of the nationally given deaf sensitivity training class entitled “I Never Gave THAT A Thought!” at www.DeafSensitivityTraining.com.

“It all began in the City of Maricopa, Arizona. It is a pleasure to assist members of society who have a hearing loss,” Greenspan said.

Local resident William Prentice, who is Deaf, will place the first official call to the White House. The next calls will be to Robert Cooper, Executive Director of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing in Topeka followed by calls made and received by Mayor Christian Price, his wife Cindy who signs, Arizona Congressman Tom O’Halleran, and Fred Greenspan who also signs.

The VideoPhone, or VP as it is commonly called in the Deaf community, was granted to the library from Sorenson Communications and is very easy to use. The “phone” can be used in two languages, English and Spanish, to users who are either deaf, or hard of hearing in a variety of different ways. When connecting a deaf user to a hearing user or business, there is an American Sign Language interpreter available for the calls.

“We are thrilled,” Library Manager Erik Surber said. “This is such a great opportunity for the patrons and the community.”

Though Arizona Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Valley Center of the Deaf, Burton Barr Central Library, Phoenix Deaf Community Center, and Phoenix College all have videophone (VP) services, the Maricopa Public Library is the first library in Arizona outside the Phoenix Metropolitan area to have VP capability that we are aware of. VP calls are paid for with monies collected from communications taxes on phone bills, thus enabling those calls to be fee-free for uses.

Surber said he anticipates several Deaf and hard of hearing individuals from Maricopa to use the service. An estimated 4,600 Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals reside in or around the City of Maricopa.

Instructions for use of the system are available during Library hours, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and Friday and Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

General VP connectivity across the United States is just like that of a standard phone line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and available on all holidays.