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Verizon Introduces Broadband Video Call Center Link for Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Customers in Mid-Atlantic Region

Thursday, September 20, 2007 General News J E 4
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 Customers in the Mid-Atlantic regionwho are deaf or hard of hearing can now communicate directly with Verizonabout their services, using videophones and American Sign Language.

The new option for engaging Verizon's Center for Customers withDisabilities is available here and in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.Customers can communicate directly via videophone with representatives in theVerizon center who are proficient in using American Sign Language (ASL) tohandle orders, change services or answer questions.

[Note: View a video demonstration and recorded comments from a keyadvocate athttp://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 aninterpreter who relays messages between those individuals and the hearingparties they communicate with. A videophone with a high-speed connection anda monitor, used either one-on-one or with an interpreter, is preferred by manyAmerican Sign Language users when they want to communicate by telephone.

"This unique, all-video call center capability lets these customerscommunicate directly --- in their preferred language, in real time -- with aVerizon customer service representative who can engage in conversation usingASL," said Tom Boudrow, who is outreach manager at the Verizon Center forCustomers with Disabilities and who is deaf.

"Verizon is the first company in the industry to offer customer servicevia videophone - another example of our leadership position in providingeffective communications for all of our customers and our quest to make thecenter a valued resource for customers with disabilities."

Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf andHard of Hearing Inc. (TDI), a national consumer advocacy organization based inSilver Spring, Md., said, "TDI congratulates Verizon for providing one moreway for its customers who use sign language to contact a company servicerepresentative by videophone. Verizon continues to make the extra effort tostay competitive with its services, which need to be not only accessible tocustomers who are deaf or hard of hearing, but which also leverage today'sdigital technologies."

Verizon already offers several options to customers for communicating withthe company in their native language. The options are: Chinese (Mandarin andCantonese), Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

People can have a video conversation in ASL with a videophone -- a set-topbox with a built-in camera connected to a broadband router; or a free-standingdesk unit with a small screen; or a Web cam supported by a computer andappropriate software. Each equipment option will require a high-speedInternet connection to receive good picture quality; lower-bandwidth serviceswill result in pixilation and low frame rates on most products.

ASL is a unique language that incorporates hand gestures and facialexpressions, and provides a more expressive and fulfilling telecommunicationsexperience than either TTY (teletype) equipment or relay services.

"Due to the widespread availability and affordability of broadband, moreand more deaf or hard-of-hearing consumers have a videophone," said Boudrow."In addition to the advantages that face-to-face interaction provides, initialresults show that customer support in ASL via videophone has increased salesby twofold."

This pilot ASL video link is only available to support customers in theMid-Atlantic region at this time. Callers from other areas should continue touse alternate access methods pending possible expansion of the service.

The Verizon Center for Customers with Disabilities provides customersupport to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, or have mobility,speech or cognitive disabilities. There are two such centers,
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