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NEWS | Sept. 5, 2022

Video phone kiosks support deaf, hard of hearing employees

By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility

The hum of industrial machinery, chimes of moving cranes and honks of transiting vehicles are familiar sounds around Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility. However, for the shipyard’s deaf and hard of hearing employees, their daily auditory experiences are far different than that of their hearing-enabled teammates.

In support of its deaf and hard of hearing employees, PSNS & IMF has installed three video phone booths that provide visual American Sign Language interpretation assistance by using equipment and translation services by Sorenson Video Relay Service.

American Sign Language is the language of the deaf community within the U.S. and is a sophisticated visual-gestural language with its own syntax and grammar. Face-to-face interaction is important in ASL as it allows signing individuals to see facial grammar during communication. This can create unique challenges in the workplace when deaf and hard of hearing employees must place necessary phone calls.

“Deaf and hard of hearing employees have been fighting to have equal access to communication for a very long time,” said Marlene Bell, one of the two ASL interpreters employed by the shipyard. “I can say, they’re relieved to know that they can go make a phone call now, just as any other hearing individual.”

Video calls can be placed using a camera-enabled touch screen within the privacy of an enclosed booth. Once a call is placed by a signing employee, a qualified ASL interpreter responds on screen to facilitate complex conversations with hearing-enabled speakers.

Sheila Marks, personnel support technician who has worked at the shipyard for 34 years, uses ASL as her primary language and enjoys the opportunity to make phone calls independently.

“I like not being dependent on someone else, such as supervisors and teammates, to make calls for me so that I can have some privacy during conversations,” said Marks. “Just like hearing people who can make private calls, deaf people also want the opportunity to be independent.”

Marks, who commutes from Tacoma, says she uses the video phones two to three times per month to help schedule private appointments that she would otherwise not be able to do due to her working hours.

The installation of the video phones was a three year collaboration among Code 109, Information Technology Office, Code 900A Administrative Support, and Code 1120 Security Office.

PSNS & IMF is committed to maintaining an inclusive and accessible environment for all employees. For information about access to ASL interpreters, please contact 360-979-6775.