The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Center of Southwest and Western Virginia recently announced that Jennifer McDonald has been hired as an outreach specialist. McDonald will coordinate outreach initiatives for people in and around Staunton, Charlottesville and Winchester.

As an outreach specialist, McDonald will sponsor workshops, demonstrations and training sessions to help educate the local community about hearing loss as well as how to use Virginia Relay, the free public service that enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who have difficulty speaking to place and receive calls via a standard telephone. She will also help people obtain no-cost telecommunications equipment through Virginia’s Technology Assistance Program.

Previously, McDonald worked as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter in Northern Virginia’s education system. She also spent 15 years working with seniors at a senior living community.

“I am looking forward to making a difference in the community by connecting people with the local resources and services Virginia offers to communicate with people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” said McDonald. “I grew up in Southwest Virginia, and I’m also excited to be returning to the area.”

“Jennifer has all of the qualifications we were looking for in an outreach specialist, as she has excellent experience with both the deaf community and senior citizens,” said Betti Thompson, director, Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services Center. “We are so fortunate to have her working with us and we’re looking forward to working with her.”

In her spare time, McDonald enjoys watching movies, shopping and traveling. Staunton residents wanting to learn more about Virginia Relay and other communications resources for people who are deaf or hard of hearing may contact her at 540-885-0822 (V/TTY) or dhhsc.jennifer@gmail.com.

Dial 7-1-1 to access free public telephone service for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind or have difficulty speaking

Virginia Relay recognizes Better Hearing and Speech Month this May. Sponsored by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) since 1927, this annual observation provides opportunities to raise awareness about hearing and speech difficulties and to promote resources that can improve the quality of life for the nearly 40 million Americans who experience difficulty hearing and/or speaking.

Virginia Relay provides the most up-to-date technologies and assistive devices to enable people in Virginia who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind or have difficulty speaking to communicate by telephone.

To benefit from Virginia Relay, Virginia residents may take advantage of any of these resources:

  • Dial 7-1-1 to make a Virginia Relay call.
    A free public service, Virginia Relay enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind or who have difficulty speaking to communicate with standard telephone users. Relay services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and anyone can initiate a Virginia Relay call simply by dialing 7-1-1.Virginia Relay offers state-of-the-art features designed with the users’ needs in mind, including traditional Relay (text telephone), Voice Carry-Over (VCO), Hearing Carry-Over (HCO), Speech-to-Speech (STS), and more. Detailed descriptions and calling instructions for each service are available online at www.varelay.org or by calling Virginia Relay customer service at 1-800-552-7917 (voice/TTY).
  • See what’s said with Captioned Telephone (CapTel®).
    Virginia Relay CapTel service is designed for individuals who have difficulty hearing on the telephone and are able to speak for themselves. Through the use of a CapTel phone, users listen while viewing word-for-word captions of what’s said to them during phone conversations. Captions appear on the bright, built-in display screen of the CapTel phone just moments after the other party has spoken. Individuals who are hard of hearing; late-deafened; deaf with understandable speech, or who have a cochlear implant; use VCO; or can no longer use an amplified phone benefit from using Virginia Relay CapTel. Web and mobile versions of CapTel are also available for PC/Mac, Smartphones and Tablets. More information is available at www.vacaptel.com.
  • Apply for no-cost telecommunications equipment.
    Telecommunications equipment is available at no-cost to Virginia residents who qualify medically and financially through the following programs:

    o Technology Assistance Program (TAP): Administered by the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH), TAP provides telecommunications equipment to qualified applicants whose disabilities prevent them from using a standard telephone. Available assistive devices include text telephones (TTYs), amplified telephones, VCO phones, HCO phones, CapTel phones, signalers for the phone and door; and more. For more information, please visit www.vddhh.org/tapabout.htm or call 1-800-552-7917 (voice/TTY).

    o TAP for Veterans: If you are a veteran living with hearing or speech loss, our no-cost Veterans’ Program can provide you with all the equipment you need to stay connected through the telephone. To qualify, you must be deaf, hard of hearing, or have difficulty speaking and provide proof of honorable discharge. For more information on all TAP services, visit www.vddhh.org or call 1-800-552-7917 (voice/TTY).

    o iCanConnect Virginia: Administered by VDDHH in cooperation with the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, iCanConnect Virginia provides no-cost communications technology, along with installation, training and support, to low-income, DeafBlind Virginia residents. For more information, please visit www.icanconnectvirginia.org.

  • Find Relay-friendly businesses with Virginia Relay Partner.
    A free, educational program for Virginia businesses, Virginia Relay Partner helps reduce the number of hang ups Relay users sometimes experience when making business calls. Open to all Virginia-based businesses, Virginia Relay Partner provides businesses of all sizes with the free training and marketing materials they need to answer and place Relay calls with confidence.To find a list of Virginia Relay Partner businesses that are trained in answering and placing Virginia Relay calls, or to request that your business become a Virginia Relay Partner, please visit www.relaypartner.org/virginia.
  • Contact your local VDDHH outreach provider.
    VDDHH’s network of outreach providers sponsor workshops, support groups and training sessions to help all Virginians—including caregivers, public safety officials and business professionals—learn more about hearing loss and ways to communicate with those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Staff members also assist new Virginia Relay users and their families and friends. To find your local VDDHH outreach provider, please visit www.varelay.org or contact VDDHH for a referral at frontdsk@vddhh.virginia.gov or 1-800-552-7917 (voice/TTY).

If you or a loved one has difficulty hearing or speaking over the phone, there are many services and varieties of equipment available to keep you connected. For more information about Virginia Relay or to apply for no-cost equipment, please visit www.varelay.org or call 1-800-552-7917 (voice/TTY) or e-mail frontdsk@vddhh.virginia.gov.

Partnership Could Benefit Thousands of Virginians

Through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) new testing system called SecuriTest, customers can complete knowledge exams in 16 different languages, now including American Sign Language (ASL).

Beginning last fall, SecuriTest replaced the agency’s 20-year old testing system. The web-based application reduces the need for translators to assist customers in the testing process. DMV and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH) collaborated to begin offering DMV tests in ASL this month. A native ASL signer, who is a former teacher of the Deaf, translated more than 1,100 test questions for DMV’s driver’s license, motorcycle license, and commercial driver’s license (CDL) exams. For many individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, ASL is their first language, so offering DMV tests in ASL, as opposed to just reading the questions, allows them to receive the information in the language they prefer.

Before SecuriTest, a customer who wanted to take a test in ASL had to arrange for an interpreter ahead of time through VDDHH’s Interpreter Service Program, which was not typically a same-day service. Now, those customers can walk in to any full service DMV office and take their test in ASL at a touch-screen kiosk; however, customers more comfortable using an ASL interpreter will still have the option of scheduling a qualified sign language interpreter.

“Virginia is one of the first states in the nation to offer DMV automated tests in American Sign Language, and we are so excited to partner with the Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to make this testing option possible,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb. “We want all of our customers to be able to take their knowledge exams in the language in which they are most comfortable, and offering tests in ASL fulfills that goal.”

While statistics from VDDHH show that an average of two people were requesting interpreters to take DMV tests each month, many others may have benefitted from interpreter services to access the test in the appropriate language mode.

“We believe this increases the ease of access for people whose primary form of communication is ASL,” said Ronald Lanier, Director of VDDHH. “Partnering with DMV to offer this service will allow Virginians who are Deaf the same access to the testing process as Virginians who are hearing – the opportunity to walk into DMV on the date and at the time that they choose and take the test, rather than having to schedule the test time based on the availability of a sign language interpreter.”

SecuriTest offers DMV knowledge exams in ASL at all 75 brick and mortar DMV offices. Tests in ASL will be offered on DMV’s five mobile offices in the near future.

*Virginia DMV is now on Skype, providing more on-camera interview opportunities for television stations outside of the Richmond market. Contact Sunni Brown for more information.

Hamilton Relay, a leading provider of telecommunications relay and captioned telephone service, is pleased to announce that it will continue as the provider of Virginia Relay Captioned Telephone (CapTel®) service as part of a recent contract extension agreement between Hamilton and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Hamilton has served as the contracted provider of Virginia Relay CapTel since 2011, and the one-year contract agreement extends this term of service through March 31, 2015.

Virginia Relay CapTel service is designed for individuals who have difficulty hearing on the telephone and are able to speak for themselves. Through the use of a CapTel phone, users listen while viewing word-for-word captions of what’s being said to them during phone conversations. Captions are generated by specially-trained Captioning Assistants who repeat everything said by the standard phone user into state-of-the-art voice recognition software. The speech is then converted almost simultaneously into text that appears on the screen of the CapTel phone. Captions are available in English or Spanish. More information is available at www.VACapTel.com.

“Hamilton Relay has provided superior service and support for Virginia Relay CapTel over the past three years, and we are pleased that our partnership is continuing into 2015,” said Ron Lanier, Director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the agency that oversees Relay services in Virginia. “Together, we continue to ensure that Virginians who are hard of hearing or late-deafened have access to the service offered through Virginia Relay CapTel.”

Dixie Ziegler, vice president of Hamilton Relay stated, “Hamilton is thrilled to have the opportunity to continue serving consumers in the Commonwealth. CapTel service can be life changing for individuals with hearing loss as it allows them to easily connect with friends, family and businesses without missing a word of what’s said in telephone conversations.”

In addition to the CapTel phone, Virginia residents have access to additional CapTel services offered by Hamilton on a nationwide basis, including Hamilton CapTel for PC/ Mac, smartphones and tablets.

About Virginia Relay CapTel and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Virginia Relay CapTel is a public service of the Commonwealth of Virginia and is administered by the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH). Through the use of a CapTel phone, Virginia Relay CapTel service allows individuals who have difficulty hearing over the phone, to listen while reading captions of what the other person says on the phone’s display screen. The captioning service is provided at no cost. Long distance charges and equipment charges may apply. Individuals may be eligible to receive a CapTel phone at no charge through VDDHH’s Technology Assistance Program which provides the most up-to-date technologies and assistive communication devices for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, including Veterans living with a hearing or speech loss. VDDHH also provides community outreach services and referral, coordination, and skills assessment for sign language interpreters. For more information on VDHH, please visit www.vddhh.org, or call VDDHH at 800-552-7917 (voice/TTY).

About Hamilton Relay

Hamilton Relay provides contracted Traditional Relay and/or Captioned Telephone services to 16 states and the Island of Saipan, and is a provider of Internet-based Captioned Telephone services nationwide. More information is available at www.hamiltonrelay.com and at www.hamiltoncaptel.com.

Hamilton Relay is a division of Hamilton Telecommunications, a diversified communications and technology service provider based in Aurora, Neb. Founded in 1901, Hamilton Telecommunications encompasses seven primary company divisions that allow Hamilton to operate on a local, regional and national basis.

CapTel is a registered trademark of Ultratec, Inc.

Contract Extension will Keep the Relay Center in Norton Open through July 2015, Maintaining the Current Workforce

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced today that a one-year contract extension has been signed with AT&T to maintain traditional telecommunication relay services currently provided by the Relay Center in Norton, Virginia. The Center provides telecommunications access for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, and speech-disabled.  The contract extension was recently negotiated by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency in conjunction with the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  The extension keeps the Center operational through July 31, 2015.

Speaking today about the announcement, Governor McAuliffe said, “The contract extension provides over $8 million in revenue to the local economy and maintains up to 80 full-time positions at the Relay Center. We look forward to continuing our contractual relationship with AT&T, the Commonwealth’s telecommunications relay provider since 1991. I would also like to thank Senator Phillip Puckett for his leadership on this critical issue for Southwest Virginia.”

The extension also meets or exceeds all current federal standards for the service and preserves the Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s certification by the Federal Communications Commission as the Commonwealth’s oversight entity for relay services.  The Center processes approximately 1,000 traditional relay calls per day for persons who cannot readily access the standard telephone network.

Ronald Lanier, the Director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing commented “With perhaps the most dedicated and experienced relay operators in the nation, the contract extension will continue to provide full access to the standard telephone network for Virginia citizens with communication challenges.  The quality of services provided by the Center’s employees distinguishes them from others, and our customers can tell the difference. ”  Director Lanier went on to compliment the cooperation shown by AT&T, the efforts of the contracting staff at the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, and the support from the City of Norton in making the extension a reality.

“The quality of the people is why we originally got the relay center here and why it has stayed,” said Fred Ramey, Norton’s Assistant City Manager.  “The AT&T Communication Assistants are active volunteers, raise money, give back to the community, and forge a special connection to the deaf and hard of hearing population.  The Relay Center has been much more than just a business in town”, Ramey said.  “Twenty years ago, the region faced double-digit unemployment.  The location of the Center here had an instant impact on quality employment that had not been seen in the area until then”, Ramey recalls. “We are pleased to continue our relationship with both the Commonwealth and AT&T”.

About Virginia Relay and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

A public service of the Commonwealth, Virginia Relay enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or speech-disabled to communicate with standard telephone users. The conversation is relayed between two parties by specially-trained communications operators.  Relay services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, and by law, are handled with strictest confidentiality.  Special features are also available for captioned relay (CapTel®), Spanish-speaking, and sign language users. Virginia Relay services are easily accessible to anyone by dialing 7-1-1 or calling 800-828-1140.  The Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s (VDDHH) Technology Assistance Program provides the most up-to-date technologies and assistive communication devices for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing including Veterans living with a hearing or speech loss. VDDHH also provides community outreach services and referral, coordination, and skills assessment for sign language interpreters.  For more information on Virginia Relay and its calling features, please visit www.varelay.org, or call VDDHH at 800-552-7917 v/tty.

Challenge Discovery Projects Bowl-A-Thon February 22

  • Feb 14, 2014
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  • publicrelationsdept

Join Virginia Relay at AMF Hanover Lanes in Mechanicsville, VA from 10:30am – 2:00pm on Saturday, February 22 for a Bowl-A-Thon to benefit Challenge Discovery Projects. Challenge Discovery Projects is committed to improving the emotional health and well-being of at-risk children and their families in Greater Richmond through programs that promote self-worth and positive, healthy relationships. To learn more, visit: www.challengediscoveryprojects.org.

Ronald L. Lanier Reappointed as Director of VDDHH

  • Jan 20, 2014
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  • publicrelationsdept

On January 15, 2014 Ronald L. Lanier was reappointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe as Director of Virginia’s Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Also reappointed by Governor McAuliffe were William A. Hazel, Jr., Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Raymond Hopkins, Commissioner of the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and James Rothrock, Commissioner of the Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services.

“In our first meeting with Governor McAuliffe, he encouraged us to ‘try new things’, and I am looking forward to bringing that mantra to VDDHH,” said Lanier. “Looking ahead, my goals include continuing to delve into newer technologies and increase our Technology Assistance Program offerings as funds allow, as well as expanding our outreach efforts to grow our staff’s presence in the community. Also, through collaborations with our partners, we will work to establish a Communications Access Fund so that we can, in keeping with our mission, increase our impact on reducing communication barriers.”

Ann Olliff Joins Virginia Relay Advisory Council

  • Oct 15, 2013
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  • publicrelationsdept

At its annual meeting in Richmond on October 12, the Virginia Relay Advisory Council (VRAC) elected Ann Olliff as its newest representative from the Virginia Association of the DeafBlind. As a member of VRAC, Ann will represent the needs and concerns of Virginia Relay users who are Deaf-Blind. Ann recently had the opportunity to visit the Helen Keller National Center, a national rehabilitation program serving youth and adults who are Deaf-Blind. While there, Ann says she had the opportunity to learn a lot and gain back her sense of identity and self empowerment. A native of Richmond, Ann enjoys the company of her guide dog, Kelly. Please join us in welcoming Ann to VRAC!

The Virginia Relay Advisory Council (VRAC) represents the needs and concerns of Virginia Relay users. To learn more, please visit www.varelay.org/advisorycouncil.

The Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH), Virginia Relay CapTel, and Heroes with Hearing LossProgram have partnered with the disAbility Resource Center in Fredericksburg, Va. to present “Soldiering on with Confidence & Independence,” a conference targeted specifically to United States military veterans who are hard of hearing and to their families.

The event will take place from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 9 at the John F. Fick Conference Center (1301 Sam Perry Boulevard) in Fredericksburg. The day will be filled with informational presentations and exhibit booths intended to honor veterans for their service and give them a forum to share information, personal experiences, strategies and more about living with hearing loss.

According to statistics from the Department of Defense, hearing loss is currently the number one service-related injury suffered by U.S. veterans returning home from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Approximately 60 percent of veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have some hearing damage, with 840,000 suffering from tinnitus and just over 700,000 suffering from hearing loss. More than 1.2 million veterans from every generation suffer from some form of hearing loss.

Conference attendees will have the opportunity to attend helpful presentations from leading physicians and audiologists; gather information about the latest hearing loss technologies, including implantable hearing aids and cochlear implants; meet other veterans with hearing loss and share experiences and coping skills; view live hearing dog demonstrations; and view a variety of assistive communication devices on display, courtesy of VDDHH and Hamilton CapTel.

The cost to attend “Soldiering on with Confidence & Independence” is $20 per person and registration will be limited to the first 200 reservations received. Scholarships made possible by the Virginia Wounded Warriors Program are available to veterans who may not be able to afford to attend.

For more information about or to register for “Soldiering on with Confidence & Independence,” please contact Arva Priola at The disAbility Resource Center via phone at 540-373-5890, via email at apriola@cildrc.org or arva16@verizon.net, or visit www.cildrc.org.

Click here to download our brochure and view the event schedule.

Virginia iCanConnect Website now Live

  • May 15, 2013
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  • publicrelationsdept

Last fall, Virginia Relay and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing introduced iCanConnect, a new program established by the Federal Communications Commission to provide a wide range of communications tools – including screen enlargement software, screen readers and Braille displays – at no cost to qualified applicants who have combined hearing and vision loss.

A new website, www.iCanConnectVirginia.org, is now live for anyone who would like more information about this program. The site features eligibility information, a list of the available equipment, frequently asked questions, and contact information for interested applicants.

To qualify for iCanConnect, applicants must be verified as deaf-blind by a practicing vision- or hearing-related professional and be enrolled in a federal low-income program or have an income that does not exceed 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

To learn more or to apply, visit www.iCanConnectVirginia.org, call 1-800-552-7917 (v/tty) or email frontdsk@vddhh.virginia.gov.