Deaf Groups Outraged Over End to Videophone Trial

By Kent Spencer, Postmedia News January 8, 2012

Video-calling has brought many couples closer.Photograph by: Melissa Leong, National PostDeaf people across the country are pleading with Canadian regulators to retain a videophone service that they say has changed their lives.

“It feels like they’re taking away our accessibility just like it would be taking away somebody’s wheelchair,” said Julie Lampitt of Surrey, B.C., who lost her hearing at birth due to a case of German measles.

“Taking this service away does not leave me with a good feeling,” said Lampitt, 53.

The service uses sign-language operators who relay messages to deaf people via video phones.

It has been in use in Canada for 18 months on a trial basis, but the CRTC, which governs the country’s telephone industry, says the experiment will end on Jan. 15 when funding runs out.

Deaf groups are planning protests across the country on Friday at CRTC offices.

The service facilitates conversations between a deaf person and one with hearing. Previously, deaf people typed their comments to an operator, who relayed messages back and forth by talking with the person being called and typing their comments.

Lisa Anderson-Kellett of Burnaby, B.C., found the written text process “cumbersome and tedious.”

“It took forever to get a message across,” said Anderson-Kellett, 40, who also lost her hearing at birth.

The video relay service was made possible by the employment of 150 sign language interpreters who were trained to pass the nuances of conversations back and forth through facial and body gestures. It was used by 300 people in B.C. and Alberta.

Lampitt said the difference between cold, clinical text and sign language is like night and day.

“Text is very linear. In sign language, we use eyebrows, tongues, hands, arms, tendons in the neck, the whole face. Without these, the message is flat. The voice is your face,” she said.

Other reasons to use video phones include basic things like being able to contact 911.

“You can’t text 911,” said Lampitt. “If I’m not at home with my video relay, it could be life or death.”

The service represented a quantum-leap in cost because the skilled sign language operators were much harder to come by than someone with typing skills.

Vancouver Province

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