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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.