Big moves have been made at UAA with the installation of the videophone in the Consortium Library. Along with the Deaf Navigator Office, UAA’s library contains one of the first public videophones. A videophone is a communication device used by Deaf or hard of hearing people who use sign language as a main source of communication. Videophones work by allowing individuals to sign face-to-face to communicate or go through an interpreter by signing to the interpreter, who then speaks to the hearing user, then signs back to the Deaf user.
Anne Lazenby, staff interpreter and coordinator of disabilities support services, played an important role in advocating for the installment of the videophone by speaking to Sorenson VRS directly, one of the top providers of video relay services (VRS) for the Deaf.
“For us, it only took about two months after we actually requested a phone to get one. The problem was that we didn’t have a place to put it. We needed people to approve where to put it and we had to get approval for using the internet services at the university,” Lazenby said. “The big turning point was when the regulatory commission of Alaska invited myself and Mandee Micek from diversity and compliance to go to their meeting, and we met with the president of Sorenson and said we want a videophone on campus.”
Giving access and tending to the diverse community is what the Office of Diversity and Compliance strives for at UAA.
“The UAA 2017 Strategic Plan professes a commitment to serving the higher education needs of our diverse communities and creating a public square where university facilities serve as community assets. Installation of the videophone was an opportunity for UAA to meet the communication needs of members of our diverse community; the Deaf and hard of hearing community,” Micek, ADA coordinator of the Office of Equity and Compliance at UAA, said. “The videophone will serve as a resource for Deaf and hard of hearing UAA faculty, staff, students and campus visitors, as well as provide a community square asset for those visiting the neighboring medical facilities and APU.”
In Alaska, there are about 600 Deaf residents, five of which are UAA students. Although videophones are free for deaf people per household, the internet is not. Many use the same videophone program on their cell phones, which can rack up an expensive data bill.
“Last summer, there was a rally of Deaf people and one of their biggest complaints was that fact to use the video service Facetime on their cell phones eats up their data. So, they’re paying like $300-$500 a month for data and how unfair that was because they did not have public phones that they could use that would not use up all their data,” Lazenby said. “We felt like being on campus were close to two hospitals and we’re pretty centrally located and it’s a public library and that’s why we decided to set it up here after getting feedback from the community.”
Having a public videophone on campus is convenient to those who may run out of data or like many instances, have trouble connecting to the UAA wi-fi.
“I’ve had a video phone for about 13 years, when they first came out they were free to Deaf individuals and I got one at that time and ever since then, I’ve had my own,” Katie Irwin, majoring in journalism with a minor in art, said. “If I needed to make a phone call on campus and my phone wasn’t working for some reason, I would be able to use the campus videophone because the internet here can be spotty, and without using [the] internet, I have to use data on my phone in order to make the call.”
The videophone is open to the public during all library hours. By installing a videophone on campus, UAA has given those who need to use it the opportunity, which is key for success.
“I am excited about having a videophone on campus, the VP is an important step toward bridging the accessibility gap between our campus and members of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” Micek said.
The videophone has been put to use and has given UAA respect for noticing the need for the phone for campus and to the public.
“I really appreciate that UAA has allowed this to be provided and it would be great if they would place a second one on campus,” Irwin said. “I really appreciate it. I know it may not be used all that often, but it gives Deaf people access and that is so important, that access is a key piece.”
The videophone is available to students, faculty and the general public during all library hours, free of charge.