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Video relay comes to campus

September 14, 2006

Photo of the Video Relay unit in useStudents, faculty and staff who use sign language now have the option to access a video relay service (VRS) on campus. The new service provides a videophone that connects to sign-language relay operators. SF State’s Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC) has installed the campus’ first video relay phone center on the lower conference level in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, near the Rosa Parks conference rooms. Plans are under way to add more centers in other locations including the residence halls and J. Paul Leonard Library.

The technology consists of a television monitor and videophone appliance connected to high-speed Internet service. Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals use a remote control to enter the phone number of the person they wish to reach, and a communication specialist appears on the screen. The specialist reads the sign language of the caller, translates it verbally for the hearing individual, then puts that individual's words into sign language for the caller. When the call is between two signing individuals, they can reach each other directly using the videophone and conduct their conversation without the assistance of a communication specialist.

The service, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, can be accessed during Student Center operating hours. Operating instructions are available with the equipment and online at the DPRC Web page "Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Services."

"About 40 students, staff and faculty at SF State are deaf or hard-of-hearing," said Todd Higgins, DPRC's deaf and hard-of-hearing specialist. While Higgins cannot predict the number of hearing persons on campus who could use the service to contact friends, family or colleagues who use sign language, he said the service is readily available to all who wish to use it. Hearing individuals can access the service from any telephone by dialing the toll-free number 1 (866) 327-8877.

Video relay is generally favored over other systems by those who communicate primarily in sign language.

"Many deaf and hard-of-hearing persons are not comfortable using traditional relay services that employ keyboards to type conversations," Higgins said. "American Sign Language (ASL) is linguistically independent of English. It is a distinct language with its own grammar and syntax. For deaf and hard-of-hearing people -- especially those for whom English is a second language -- video relay provides the opportunity to communicate more naturally and freely over the telephone." Higgins, who is deaf, has a videophone in his office.

The video relay service is provided by a federal initiative that collects a few cents each month from all phone bills. The Federal Telecommunications Fund uses this money to reimburse service providers including several U.S. phone companies. Higgins adds that more and more call centers and communication specialists are coming online every day.

"San Francisco State is committed to providing quality services and choice on campus for the deaf and hard-of-hearing," Higgins said. "It's our job to make every effort to remove communication barriers."

For more information, contact DPRC at (415) 338-2472 (voice/TTY), visit the DPRC Web site or e-mail Higgins at

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified September 14, 2006 by University Communications