Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Brings American Sign Language to its Terminals

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Brings American Sign Language to its Terminals

On Tuesday, the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport held a press conference to demonstrate their new technology in order to serve the deaf community better.


            This week celebrates National Deaf Awareness Week and the airport showed support by announcing the installment of a video relay service (VRS). The service allows hard of hearing and speech-challenged guests who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate through a video call system to speak with an interpreter to navigate around the airport and use other airport services. 


The VRS service came into action in 2016 when the ACDHH hosted a convention in Phoenix. Since the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has been dubbed America’s Friendliest Airport it was put into action to get VRS installed permanently. 


            Terminal 4 has the highest foot traffic, so five tablets have been installed in common areas as well as past security. The airport plans to have five more installed by the end of 2019. 


            “The Commission has been pleased to partner in this effort as a result of our outreach and education and advocacy services,” said Carmen Green, the deputy director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ACDHH). 


            There are about 1.1 million in the deaf community in America with around 25,000 in the Phoenix area. “It’s really cool that this is happening that we have equal access it’s really important to us,” said Beca Baily, Community Engagement Liaison for ACDHH.


            VRS is home to four apps: Purple’s P3, Sorenson’s ntouch, CaptionCall, and Convo. Each app allows the user to be connected with an interpreter who can speak ASL. The translators are based in call centers all across America. 


“If there’s no tablet available, guests could use a hand-written note, it really just depends on the individual, it would just take a little bit longer of a process and its more time-consuming… It makes the individual a lot more independent,” said Emmett Hassen, Licensing and Certification Coordinator for ACDHH.

            Hassen made a mock call to show how efficient the system is. He logged into his account, which is free to deaf and hard of hearing, and opened an app. Immediately he was connected with an interpreter who was ready to answer his questions about a pair of lost keys. 


            Since VRS connects users with interpreters across America, there is no wait time to get the call answered. 


            “Well if you want a perfect world pretty much all the hearing people will have to sign, but then you wouldn’t need [VRS]. But for complete access in a location, it would be nice at the airport, hotels; these would be ideal. So, we’re starting with the airport,” said Hassen. 


            Phoenix Sky Harbor is training more than 400 volunteers that are able to use VRS, in order to increase their accommodations and awareness for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

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