Discontinuation of Free Web-Cam and High Speed Internet Reimbursement Program

Dear LifeLinks Users,

On behalf of LifeLinks, we would like to thank you for using our service. LifeLinks is honored to be the Deaf community’s VRS and we are determined to provide communication for a better world.

We are sad to announce that our free Web-Cam offer and High-Speed Internet reimbursement program have ended. Web-Cams will no longer be distributed and we are no longer accepting new applications for free High-Speed internet. However, we are proud to say that we have donated all web-cams in stock, and during this offer thousands of Web-Cam’s were given away and we were able to install High-Speed Internet into hundreds of households.

Unfortunately, our offers have been abused and we have recently found that many of our gifts were obtained by those /outside/ of the Deaf community. For this reason we are forced to place all current internet payments on hold until further notice. We apologize for the inconvenience and ask that you be patient during this process.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact our customer service representatives:

Email: customerservice@lifelinks.net
VP#: 69.18.207.166 (request customer service rep)
TTY#: 212 714-9889

On behalf of LifeLinks, we would like to thank you for sharing yourselves with us and allowing us the opportunity to fulfill our mission of being the community’s VRS.

Sincerely,
The LifeLinks Family

Deaf, Perhaps, But Not Mute

Deaf, Perhaps, But Not Mute

By Ryan Singel 
Apr, 13, 2006

An FCC program for the deaf sounds like the modern equivalent of ringing Mabel the operator down at the phone exchange so she can patch through your call. Assuming, of course, that Mabel has signing skills.

The system, called video relay services, or VRS, is proving a godsend to the deaf and hearing-impaired, allowing them to communicate using American Sign Language through a translator to a third party.

Increasing numbers of the hearing-impaired are now using various sorts of video phones with VRS to place calls to each other and to the hearing world.

VRS providers are paid approximately $6 a minute by the FCC from a tax levied on every U.S. phone bill. That makes VRS an expensive replacement for conventional TDD-based services, in which an operator relays between a deaf person typing on a computer terminal and a hearing person on the phone. Those calls cost the FCC about $1 a minute.

But the technology is a quantum leap for deaf people, according to Pat Nola, CEO of Sorenson Communications, the nation's largest VRS provider.

For the deaf, switching to the new service is like a hearing person going from Morse code to a telephone, says Nola.

"What is subtle is that American Sign Language is spoken with hands, and it is so different than English," Nola said. "With VRS, the hearing and deaf can be connected in the natural language of both parties, and it is a very effective way to communicate emotions since the interpreter emotes…. To communicate the emotions you hear in a person's voice, the interpreter signs in a certain way to a deaf person."

Grant Laird Jr., who runs the community site Deaf Network, concurs.

"You are able to express your emotion thru VRS with your natural sign language — unlike TTY (teletype terminals) with limited text messages (where) no emotion shows," said Laird, a 36-year-old semiconductor specialist at Texas Instruments who is deaf. "We are getting close to 100 percent independent."

Laird uses a video phone to call his parents, who are also deaf, though he says they are only slowly adapting to the new technology.

Members of Laird's immediate family all carry mobile devices, such as the Sidekick, to keep in touch using instant messaging. His wife is also deaf, and they have two teenage daughters who are not hearing-impaired.

He also uses a competing VRS service from LifeLinks, which provides the deaf with a broadband connection, a webcam and video-phone software from SightSpeed. LifeLinks provides VRS translators, but the deaf can also use the software for free calls to other deaf people.

SightSpeed's service, which is free for anyone to use, includes a video-mail inbox and technology that refreshes only the most important aspects of a video frame in order to optimize the frame rate, according to SightSpeed President Scott Lomond.

Laird says he likes SightSpeed for work and travel, but says it has its limitations. For instance, when using SightSpeed in a room without good lighting, Laird is forced to slow down his signing so he can be understood by the interpreter.

By comparison, Sorenson provides the deaf with a company-designed video camera called the VP-100, which sits on top of a television and shows the interpreter or deaf friend full-screen. The company allows deaf people to place calls to and from each other for free — a popular feature that enjoys almost eight times the use of Sorenson's VRS service, according to CEO Nola.
http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,70585-0.html?tw=wn_technology_1

Special gear helps deaf, blind communicate

Special gear helps deaf, blind communicate

Tue, Apr. 11, 2006

By KATIE HAHN
khahn@thestate.com

The deaf and blind of South Carolina have relief when it comes to phone communication. Free assistance is available through the state-supported S.C. Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program.

The program provides equipment such as amplified telephones, text telephones, artificial larynxes and alerting devices to S.C. residents who have vision, speech and hearing problems.

Anne Bader, a local outreach coordinator for the program, helps residents gain access to much-needed equipment .

Diagnosed with sensory neural hearing loss, she is not only a paid advocate of the program, but a user.

“This equipment has truly improved my ability to be independent and productive,” Bader said.

The program has helped more than 13,000 residents, 78 percent of whom are older than 65 and dealing with late-onset hearing loss.

However, the program is open to people of all ages as long as they are S.C. residents, have home phone service and have a certified disability that causes difficulty using a standard phone.

Funding for the program is provided through the Dual Party Relay Fund and is collected by a monthly surcharge to all business and residential phone lines in the state. The surcharge is currently 15 cents and is listed as Telecommunications Relay Service on monthly phone bills.

Cindy Willis, an employee in interpretive services at the School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg, started using phones from the program 18 months ago. She heard about the program from a friend.

“(Before) I had confusion with phone calls and shied away from using the phone,” Willis said. “Now I have more confidence making the phone calls I need to make,” she said.

The program determines which equipment is best for individuals and upgrades equipment with improved technology.

The program currently is testing a new captioned telephone that displays written, word-for-word captions of everything the caller says.

TO LEARN MORE:

(803) 896-8337 (voice) or (803) 896-8334 (text telephone)

Toll-free, (877) 225-8337 (voice) or (877) 889-8337 (text)

SCTEDP@scsdb.k12.sc.us

http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/living/health/14325485.htm

Expo showcases latest technology for deaf community

Expo showcases latest technology for deaf community

4/9/2006

By: Allison Toepperwein

The country's largest touring convention for the deaf stopped in Austin at the Palmer Events Center on Saturday. Deaf Nation showcased cutting-edge technology that closes the gap between the deaf community and a hearing world.

The Austin deaf community is especially sensitive right now. A month ago, Miss Deaf Texas, Tara McAvoy, was hit by a train in South Austin. Police believe she may have been text messaging someone when she was killed. Tara dealt with the same obstacles the deaf community deals with every day. Her mother, Sarah McAvoy, said she needed to attend the convention to keep her daughter’s message alive.

The Deaf Nation Expo travels around the United States bringing the deaf community technology and information together under one roof.

"[It’s] where families and communities and deaf people could come together and also deaf children could come together and see what technology was available, what their community was and develop a bridge between the community and the changes that were occurring in the culture and community because of the technology," Deaf Nation CEO Joel Barish signed.

About 3,000 Texans came to the daylong expo at the Palmer Events Center Saturday.

"They get to come and interact with people that actually know their language. I mean there are some interpreters, but for the most part, people are communicating in sign language, which is their language. Learning about products that are useful to them, so this is really an awesome thing for them," UT sign language student Jordan Owens said.

The Blackberry is really useful for the deaf because they can connect to the entire world at the touch of a button. Sprint also designed a custom plan for the deaf and hard of hearing since they don't need a voice plan on a phone, Customer Relations Manager Paul Rutowski said.

"[I like] the fact that you can call and use the Sprint Relay service online with a wireless device. I would then be able to call the police or have someone come help and support me if I was in a situation," attendee Donnie Wood signed.

Johanna Valenta, the newly crowned Miss Deaf Texas, believes these wireless communication devices are important for the Deaf community. She said Tara wouldn't want her accident to deter the advances made for the deaf.

"I'm happy to have seen the experiences that she went through and my hope is to keep her presence alive," Valenta signed.

Sarah McAvoy said keeping that presence alive inspires her to keep going every day.

"Because I feel that with Tara, the two of us when she was growing up, we would always go places together. And I can't just stay at home and sit there. I need to keep going and keep doing. Of course I'm still grieving. But, I need to keep busy, even though she's not physically here, keep doing the things we have always done," McAvoy said.

The tour also plans stops in Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago and Denver.

http://www.news8austin.com/content/your_news/default.asp?ArID=159275

Communication Service for the Deaf announces layoffs

Fri, Apr. 07, 2006

Communication Service for the Deaf announces layoffs

Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Fifty-four employees of Communication Service for the Deaf – including CEO Ben Soukup – have been temporarily laid off, the agency said Thursday.

The layoffs are effective in Sioux Falls and across the nation.

CSD, based in Sioux Falls, has about 3,100 employees across the nation. It provides interpretive and relay services that allow deaf and hard-of-hearing people access to telecommunications systems through video and Internet interpreters and older technology.

CSD reported more than $87 million in revenue in 2004. But recent reports from the National Exchange Carrier Association, which manages the federal fund that pays for the services of CSD and other relay providers, show less usage of some key services.

Soukup, who founded Communication Service for the Deaf out of a broom closet at the South Dakota School for the Deaf more than 30 years ago, said the nonprofit agency is not in financial trouble.

"We want to make sure we run things as efficiently and as effectively as we possibly can," he said. "None of the changes that we're implementing right now will affect the level of service that we're providing for our consumers."

He said he and some of the other executives who were laid off would keep working without pay for a short time. In 2004, Soukup made more than $850,000 in salary and deferred compensation.

"We need to change how we do business in the area of technology," Soukup said.

He said technology and changes in the company's structure forced the move. But Soukup said he hopes most if not all the employees involved will be asked back in four to six weeks and that the timing will vary by position.

"This is an exciting thing for CSD. We're thinking that a lot of positive things are going to come of this," Soukup said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com
http://www.aberdeennews.com/mld/aberdeennews/news/14288259.htm