Virginia has become the first state to provide real-time video chat access to its COVID-19 information call center for users of American Sign Language (ASL).
The mission of the Vaccine Call Center for American Sign Language Support, a face-to-face service for the deaf and hard of hearing, is to provide equal access to state assistance in a format more likely to offer clear information that’s less susceptible to miscommunication.
“ASL and English are different,” Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Director Eric Raff said. “For many interpreters, ASL isn’t their first language, so they miss cues.” Raff explained that ASL includes facial expressions, so “sometimes an eyebrow movement can indicate a question, for example, but it’s part of the grammar.”
Video chat agents at the center communicate directly with people who call in, so there is no need for an additional person to serve as a “go-between” and type translations on either end of the call. Raff said this process will save time.
ASL users have two ways to connect: by videophone at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682) or by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov. The service is available daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.
Virginia’s partner in launching the service is Connect Direct, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD).
“Connect Direct applauds Virginia for its dedication to its ASL-using residents,” said Craig Radford, vice president of strategy and business development at CSD. “Many state services, including health services, are often inaccessible to deaf ASL users. We encourage more state governments to follow Virginia’s lead.”
Raff said he is excited that the Virginia Department of Health is willing to take advantage of an opportunity to provide equal access.
“We wanted the same thing and had the same goal,” Raff said. “Their goal is to provide vaccination information to the citizens of Virginia, and our goal is to provide communication access. We’re really excited to be the first state in the country to do this.”
Author: King, Kristi
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