American Sign Language support now available through Virginia vaccination call center

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RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginians who are deaf or hard of hearing now have a new resource for COVID-19 information.

The Virginia Department of Health says Virginia is the first state to offer real-time ASL support. ASL users can call via videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov. The center can be reached 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week

Callers are now able to directly connect with ASL-fluent representatives via videophone or webcam.

“This is important, because ASL is not English ‘on the hands;’ it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural context different from, and uninfluenced by, English conventions,” VDH says.

VDH says the service also uses deaf employees, creating jobs for the historically under-employed community.

“Deaf people using video interpreters may not always have effective communication when making phone calls through the Video Relay Service,” said Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Director Eric Raff. “I am pleased that VDDHH was able to work with VDH to ensure deaf people can directly call Vaccinate Virginia and get crucial and accurate information to protect their health during this pandemic.”

Raff tells 10 On Your Side he’s excited the services are off the ground and approximately 50,000 Virginians who use American Sign Language will benefit from the services.

“I think there are times the deaf community is misunderstood and the need for direct services is underestimated. The disability community at large is sometimes left out of accessibility planning, not just the deaf community,” he said, adding that VDH has made a huge effort to help those with disabilities.

Being able to communicate in their native language will also be a benefit to the deaf community to get information quickly and accurate, according to Raff. He says many rely on Video Relay Services (VRS), which can be time-consuming and sometimes the quality of the interpreters varies.

Raff says he’s heard of difficulties from others in the deaf community who have tried to use third-party interpreters to get vaccine information.

“Calling something like Vaccinate Virginia and getting a representative, sometimes the interpreter is misconstrued and they think it’s a telemarketer,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of tales of people being hung up on or the operator saying ‘Tell him this, tell her this.’ They don’t recognize they’re speaking directly to the deaf person. That’s one kind of hurdle for VRS.”

The service was created in partnership with Connect Direct, a subsidiary of not-for-profit Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD).

For more information on vaccinations, visit WAVY’s vaccine page.

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