WASHINGTON - Customers in the Mid-Atlantic region who are deaf or hard of hearing can now communicate directly with Verizon about their services, using videophones and American Sign Language.
The new option for engaging Verizon's Center for Customers with Disabilities is available here and in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Customers can communicate directly via videophone with representatives in the Verizon center who are proficient in using American Sign Language (ASL) to handle orders, change services or answer questions.
[Note: View a video demonstration and recorded comments from a key advocate at http://mfile.akamai.com/14177/wmv/verizon.download.akamai.com/14177/media/vz_video_link.wmv ]
Most video services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing involve an interpreter who relays messages between those individuals and the hearing parties they communicate with. A videophone with a high-speed connection and a monitor, used either one-on-one or with an interpreter, is preferred by many American Sign Language users when they want to communicate by telephone.
"This unique, all-video call center capability lets these customers communicate directly --- in their preferred language, in real time -- with a Verizon customer service representative who can engage in conversation using ASL," said Tom Boudrow, who is outreach manager at the Verizon Center for Customers with Disabilities and who is deaf.
"Verizon is the first company in the industry to offer customer service via videophone - another example of our leadership position in providing effective communications for all of our customers and our quest to make the center a valued resource for customers with disabilities."
Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc. (TDI), a national consumer advocacy organization based in Silver Spring, Md., said, "TDI congratulates Verizon for providing one more way for its customers who use sign language to contact a company service representative by videophone. Verizon continues to make the extra effort to stay competitive with its services, which need to be not only accessible to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, but which also leverage today's digital technologies."
Verizon already offers several options to customers for communicating with the company in their native language. The options are: Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
People can have a video conversation in ASL with a videophone -- a set-top box with a built-in camera connected to a broadband router; or a free-standing desk unit with a small screen; or a Web cam supported by a computer and appropriate software. Each equipment option will require a high-speed Internet connection to receive good picture quality; lower-bandwidth services will result in pixilation and low frame rates on most products.
ASL is a unique language that incorporates hand gestures and facial expressions, and provides a more expressive and fulfilling telecommunications experience than either TTY (teletype) equipment or relay services.
"Due to the widespread availability and affordability of broadband, more and more deaf or hard-of-hearing consumers have a videophone," said Boudrow. "In addition to the advantages that face-to-face interaction provides, initial results show that customer support in ASL via videophone has increased sales by twofold."
This pilot ASL video link is only available to support customers in the Mid-Atlantic region at this time. Callers from other areas should continue to use alternate access methods pending possible expansion of the service.
The Verizon Center for Customers with Disabilities provides customer support to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, or have mobility, speech or cognitive disabilities. There are two such centers, one in Massachusetts and one in California.
Customer service representatives at the centers can recommend services and equipment that make communications easier for people with various disabilities. For example, Verizon offers phones that have photos on the buttons to help people with cognitive difficulties, and phones that operate by remote control for people with physical disabilities.
Some customers with disabilities can get an exemption from charges for calls made to 411 or for operator-assisted calls. Verizon can provide its bill statements in large print or Braille at no extra charge. The company also produces a quarterly newsletter (www.verizon.com/forwardaccess) filled with news and information for its customers with disabilities.
While Verizon does not currently sell videophones, the center supports sales of other equipment in support of people with disabilities. [NOTE: See accompanying list of available equipment.]
Verizon's broadband services enable video conferencing across all markets, and the company has more than 7.7 million broadband connections. The company's DSL service is available at various download speeds, and Verizon is the only major U.S. telecom company building an advanced, all-digital, fiber-optic network, on a mass scale, all the way to customers' homes, enabling Verizon FiOS Internet service at up to 30 megabits per second download speeds.
Additionally, Verizon is the only major telecom company whose network has earned the certification of the independent Fiber to the Home Council for providing fiber all the way to customers' homes."
Verizon offers FiOS Internet service in more than 1,700 communities in 16 states, offering downstream connection speeds ranging from up to 5 Mbps (megabits per second) to up to 50 Mbps and upstream connection speeds ranging from up to 2 Mbps to up to 10 Mbps.* For more information about Verizon FiOS Internet, visit www.verizon.com/fios.
To learn more about any of these products or services, or to reach a customer service representative at the Verizon Center for customers with Disabilities, consumers can call 800-974-6006 (voice/TTY). Consumers in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., also can call via videophone at either 800-974-6006 or 888-974-6006.
* NOTE: Actual (throughput) speeds will vary.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving more than 62 million customers nationwide. Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which delivers innovative and seamless business solutions to customers around the world, and Verizon Telecom, which brings customers the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services over the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network. A Dow 30 company, Verizon has a diverse workforce of more than 238,000 and last year generated consolidated operating revenues of more than $88 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.
About Videophone Use
Many deaf or heard-of-hearing customers are already very familiar with videophones, using them to work with video relay services to communicate with hearing persons with the help of an interpreter who translates messages to and from American Sign Language (ASL), or for direct communication with others who know and use ASL. Some computers equipped with the proper software and Web cameras can be used as well. Videophones can be hooked up either to a regular TV or to a PC monitor [http://www.dlink.com/products/?sec=1&pid=293] or can be desktop units complete with a small screen [http://www.dlink.com/products/?sec=1&pid=302].
For effective video conferencing communication at good frame rates, customers need a high-speed line with a downstream speed of at least 256 kilobits per second or higher. Verizon's High Speed Internet services start at speeds of up to 768 Kbps and range up to 50 Mbps on FiOS Internet connections.
Phones are simply dialed as usual, though with some equipment setups the phone number dialed actually represents a computer IP address
Customers have options regarding the hardware they use. Phones made by companies like D-Link can be purchased for about $150 to about $300, depending on the model and connection type. But other models by other makers are available free to users of various video relay services, which are publicly funded under Federal Communication Commission requirements.
Products Available From Verizon for Consumers With Disabilities
Big Button Corded Feature Phone (ITT2400). Provides one-touch photo-memory buttons (pictures can be inserted behind the buttons) and flashing visual ring indicator. Braille on buttons and hearing-aid compatible.
Ameriphone Amplified Corded Telephone (AMEP300). Allows for quick and easy dialing of pre-programmed telephone numbers by simply pressing a button (pictures can be inserted behind the buttons). Phone comes with adjustable amplification and bright ringer flasher handset; hearing aid T-Coil-compatible
Amplified phone that has a jumbo keypad w/Braille (JV-35). Jumbo-sized, high-contrast buttons with Braille. Electronic voice repeats numbers as dialed. Amplification boosts incoming sound with adjustable tone control for better clarity of incoming voice. Also has audio jack for use with assistive listening devices.
Talking Caller ID 99 Name and Number (CV9900CW). Uses patented VoiceAnnounce technology to announce calls over its built-in speaker or over the handset of a cordless phone. This gives Caller ID subscribers the ability to screen calls without the interruptions and inconvenience imposed by traditional, display-only Caller ID equipment.
Amplified 2.4Ghz Cordless Phone (CL600). Backlit Caller ID, powerful 2.4Ghz technology for extended range. Amplifies incoming voice up to 30 db with adjustable volume. Adjustable tone for crystal-clear clarity. Extra-loud ringer in base. Audio jack for use with assistive listening devices.
Portable TTY machine (751075). A dual-purpose TTY that is lightweight, portable and full-featured, it connects to TSB-121, which makes it compatible for mobile/cell phone and for many cordless phones. Built-in microphone and large display enables hands-free voice carry over (VCO) calls. Optional speakers or headset enables hearing carry over (HCO) calls. The machine comes with 68-key keyboard with one-touch capability for many common phrases.
Clarity 500 big button amplified telephone (W500). An ergonomically optimized, corded, amplified telephone with a Caller ID display. This phone enables people with a hearing loss to hear clearly and communicate easily. High-frequency sounds are amplified more than the low-frequency sounds so that words are not just louder, but clearer and easier to understand.
A voice carry over corded phone (751330). Also known as the "the speak and then read phone," it allows the user to speak to the callers while reading their words on a built-in screen through a toll-free relay service. It is easy to use, and no typing is required. It comes with a powerful amplifier to make the incoming sound 30 times louder.
Remote control hands-free speakerphone (RC200). This product can be accessed by remote switches. The RC-200 comes with a "mouse-style" remote control for memory scanning, dialing and answering from up to 40 feet away.