Spring 2003

KY Consortium Brings Better Access to Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing
by Tricia Davis and Ruth McCann

The deaf/hard-of-hearing community in Kentucky totals approximately 400,000 people. In order to provide members of this community with equitable access to remote interpreting, a statewide network, the Kentucky Deaf Access Consortium (K-DAC), was created. K-DAC consists of four partners: Eastern Kentucky University's Center on Deafness, the Kentucky Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, and the Kentucky Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. For more than ten years, the partners have collaborated on other projects, and the Consortium was a natural outgrowth of these efforts.

Federal funding for the Consortium makes access to remote interpreting and captioning possible. Via a Deaf Access Station (DAS), which is a computer workstation equipped with a camera, a deaf consumer needing services from a hearing service provider that does not communicate in sign language, can be linked to an interpreter in another location. With the DAS, the interpreter can use any computer that has the necessary videoconferencing software and connect with the individuals in the other location, who also have the same software. The deaf consumer can begin to ask questions while the interpreter voices for the hearing service provider. When the service provider answers, the deaf consumer watches the interpreter on the screen as the interpreter signs the translation.

The software chosen for the project is Sorensen's EnVision. This product removes the delayed motion previously encountered when attempting to communicate in American Sign Language using other teleconferencing packages. Before applying for funding, the partners conducted a year-long usage feasibility of EnVision, testing its functionality and practicality over a variety of lines. In spring 2001, the first DAS using the EnVision product was deployed at the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. A statewide deployment was held at Kentucky's DeaFestival, June 2002.

Using the information gathered from the usage feasibility study and from task force data collected in 1996, the University, along with its partners, applied for federal funding for the DAS project. Application was made to the Department of Commerce's Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) in spring 2001, and funding was approved in fall 2002. Since that time, the partners have developed an installation plan that allows 40 public stations to be established throughout the state by the end of the project in fall 2004. Given that the EnVision product has dropped in price from $500 to $150 in the past year, the Consortium's hope is that deaf consumers will eventually have this software loaded on their personal home computers.

This access eliminates the waiting time for services, decreases the need for intervention, and reduces access hardships for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. TOP believes that K-DAC will also serve as a national model of successful and replicable service provider delivery to deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers. The external evaluator will conduct the first user evaluation of the project this fall.

Tricia Davis is Grants and Projects Director at the Center on Deafness at Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky, and is serving as Project Director for the K-DAC project. Co-author, Ruth McCann, is a retired professor from EKU's College of Education, is serving as project evaluator.

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