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"Airport installing system for deaf, hard of hearing"


 
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Airport installing system for deaf, hard of hearing
Interpretype of Henrietta is putting in 17 devices
By Ben Rand
The Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle


Think for a second about what it takes to board an aircraft in the United
States. From the time you enter the airport, you have to answer several
questions and listen for numerous instructions - everything from showing
identification and reporting to a specific gate to removing your belt or
shoes at the metal detector. 

Now imagine trying to respond when you can't hear well, or at all. It
wouldn't be easy.

Making the experience less bewildering for travelers who are deaf or hard of
hearing is at the heart of a significant new program at the Greater
Rochester International Airport. 

Monroe County is deploying technology designed to allow travelers with
hearing difficulties to communicate with key airport personnel using instant
messaging. Rochester's airport is believed to be the first to install this
type of technology across an entire airport terminal. 

The system, developed by a Henrietta company, consists of laptop-style
computer devices connected by cables and software.

It allows users to enter their identities and send and display typed
messages. 

The airport is placing the systems at each airline ticket counter and car
rental station, the Greater Rochester Visitors Association booth, the
central security checkpoint, airport dispatch and airport administration -
17 in all. The installation is one of several improvements designed to make
the terminal more accessible to people with disabilities in connection with
a $10 million renovation. 

Monroe County purchased the systems from Interpretype LLC of Henrietta. "The
systems are a customer-service tool for businesses and organizations....They
are the next best thing to an interpreter," said Ken Gan, president of
Interpretype LLC, who developed and owns a patent on the system. 

Gan is also president of Mac's II Mechanical and Collision Service in
Henrietta. He developed the message terminals after getting a lot of
business from deaf students who attend the National Technical Institute of
the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He noticed that
communicating with the students, largely through using a notepad, was taking
too much time. 

Monroe County officials decided to install the devices after taking
suggestions from NTID on how to improve communications for the deaf and hard
of hearing. 

In the past, deaf and hard of hearing travelers would have to improvise
their communications with airlines and other personnel, said Terry
Slaybaugh, director of the Monroe County department of planning and
development. 

In certain instances - say for a special event or for a person with special
needs -the airport would make arrangements for an interpreter to help. But
on routine matters, "they were pretty much on their own," Slaybaugh said. 

The airport is beginning a second set of disability-related improvements,
with $7 million slated for each terminal to update systems and make other
changes, he said. 

Monroe County is sending an important message to deaf and hard-of-hearing
travelers by installing the technology, said Gerard Buckley, assistant vice
president of college advancement at NTID. 

"When I arrive at an airport and I see an alert system (for the deaf), it
tells me the staff has a sensitivity to my needs," said Buckley, who
estimates that he travels each month. 

That's particularly important in Monroe County, which has one of the highest
percentages of deaf residents anywhere in the United States. Thousands of
deaf students, their families and others use the airport each year, Buckley
said. 

One student at NTID sees the issue as more fundamental - as a matter of
equality. Abiodun Odunlami, 19, a second-year student in lab-science
technologies, says that now she's not being left out of important
communications. "Now the airport staff can communicate with the deaf and
hearing the same way," Odunlami said. 

The Interpretype terminals also save time, said Kumar Singh, 22. "It's more
easy and efficient" to use the terminals to communicate than to write notes,
he said. 

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said she was glad that a local company
could provide the technology. "It's another example of ground-breaking
products being manufactured in Rochester," she said.


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