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Device helps hearing-impaired jail inmates chat with visitors

POSTED: April 20, 2013 12:45 a.m.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office is making it easier for hearing-impaired inmates to communicate with visitors.

A Video Relay Service will provide a method for touching base with visitors on the other end of a telephone line via a video screen facilitating a hand-signing translator, Deputy Chad Mann, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Friday.

Sheriff Gerald Couch praised the technology, citing its role in protecting rights of inmates.

“Technology has come a long way. The administration and staff of the Hall County Jail continuously work toward gaining access to all the latest tools available,” he said in a release announcing the new system. “This is so that everyone incarcerated in our facility has equal access to the provisions set forth in their constitutional rights. For those whose primary communication is sign language, we are pleased to offer this tremendous service.”

The jail has implemented the technology with the introduction of a system called Sorenson ntouch VP.

Mann noted that visitation can bring about complicated issues for any inmate, and the hearing disabled in particular. He said previous complaints have included distance, long wait periods before a face-to-face meeting is allowed and noisy environments during inmate visitations.

Sgt. Chris McNeal explained the process with the new system.

“Whenever an inmate with impaired hearing is set for their visit, they are given a booth in which a video monitor facilitates a translator, passing along the communication over a phone line to the inmate’s family,” he said. “As with a standard phone conversation, the translator will reciprocate to the inmate by hand-signing their response.”

Video Relay Service is the most “functionally equivalent” communication system for deaf individuals who use sign language.

VRS is an electronic communication option that closely simulates a conversation between two hearing people, something the Americans with Disabilities Act calls “functional equivalency,” Mann said.\

Sorenson created the first videophone designed specifically for use by deaf individuals.

Ioannis Sirakoulis, Sorenson Communications district manager for Georgia, said that “Sorenson is pleased to provide communication access for all deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Currently, we provide Video Relay Service for schools, government agencies and now, for inmates at Hall County Jail.”

VRS service at the Hall County Jail is funded through the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Services Fund, administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

No taxpayer dollars were used in the funding of the service, Mann said.


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