Deaf video hotline is sign of the times

September, 30/2018 - 09:00

With a smart phone or iPad accessing the internet, a hearing-impaired person will communicate easier thanks to an online interpreter.

Helping hands: Members of the Sign Language Translation Company. — VNS Photo Thu Hiền
Viet Nam News

by Thanh Hương

The telephone on the table rings. Interpreter Vũ Hoàng Lan receives the call. A pregnant woman standing in a shop is on the phone’s screen. She does not say anything, just shows signals with her hands. Lan looks at the signals carefully and takes notes. Then the woman gives the phone to a shop assistant.

Lan talks to the shop assistant, “Hello. Now I will translate her sayings. She wants to buy some things to prepare for her newborn, including…”

It is one of dozens of calls which interpreters like Lan receive everyday.

Vital service

The main office of the Sign Language Translation Company is no more than 20sq.m. Four tables are arranged next to each other, with two interpreters and two special telephones. Everything is simple, but during the past six months, the company has helped hundreds of hearing-impaired people connect and communicate everyday.

Thanh Lê, a familiar customer, said, “I’m innately deaf and mute. I learned that I had a tumour in my belly several months ago. I was very scared. And I was even scared more when I did not understand what doctors said. Thanks to help from interpreters of the company during my treatment period, now I totally recover.”

Phạm Văn Vượng, another hearing-impaired man who is working as guard for a company, said, “Earlier, when the translation company had not been founded, I did not understand what my boss and colleagues said in my company’s meeting. Now, whenever a meeting is organised, I call an interpreter at the hotline and he/she translate into sign language for me. It’s so convenient.”

The hotline was founded early this year, but the idea for it was nurtured by Đỗ Hoàng Thái Anh a long time ago.

Anh, 33, is deputy chairman of the Hà Nội Hearing-Impaired People’s Association.

In 2013, Anh joined the World Hearing-Impaired Youth Camp held in South Korea. He was so surprised witnessing local youth receive supportive services and get opportunities to develop like normal people.

“South Korean hearing-impaired people are supported to access education, public places and interpreters. The speech-impaired studying at universities and becoming engineers or doctors is not a rare thing there. Meanwhile in Việt Nam, most of the disabled people only graduate from junior secondary school and then do simple work with low income,” said Anh.

Anh was born with hearing impairments, and met lots of barriers from the community as he grew up and studied.

“Seeing online interpreters for sign language in South Korea, I dream to bring this service to Việt Nam,” said Anh.

Innovative: Thái Anh’s idea of a hotline for hearing-impaired people won first prize at a prestigious start-up competition. — VNS Photo Thu Hiền
On the line: Interpreter Hoàng Lan helps her clients communicate. — VNS Photo Thu Hiền

Last year, a South Korean company proposed to coordinate with Anh and gave him technological support. Also last year, a start-up competition launched by the United Nations Development Programme, and Anh’s idea impressed the jury.

He won the competition with US$15,000. The prize, together with support from the Korean company, is enough for him to operate his sign language translation hotline and start to implement his dream.

With a smart phone or iPad accessing the internet, a hearing-impaired person will communicate easier thanks to an online interpreter. Via video, the interpreter will translate the impaired person’s sign language into spoken language, and vice versa.

The fee for the service is VNĐ200,000 ($8.6) per month, and the service is available all day and night.

The hotline number is 02477700088

Varied job

Interpreters’ work at the hotline is quite special. They are not only interpreter, but also advisers, psychological experts and doctors. From small things such as dating, asking parents’ permission to go out with friends, buying snacks and booking hotels to going to hospitals and resolving conflicts in family and in the society. Every time speech-impaired people are in need, the interpreters will support them.

Sometimes, the interpreters even come to the scene to help impaired people.

“However, to help them learn about the service is a problem. And the fee of VNĐ200,000 is a big sum for the disabled people who mostly do not have stable income,” said interpreter Lan.

She added that it was also difficult to persuade the disabled people’s families to use the service.

Interpreter Đỗ Thu Hiền said, “Hearing-impaired people are alone, even in their home. Many people told me that they were very sad during meals at home because everybody talked and smiled happily, but they were only silent.”

“Not being shared and communicated with, they are gradually timid and not dare to expect anything, while their family believe that they do not have the demand for communication,” said Hiền.

Hiền and Lan take turns to be on duty on the phone. Many days they must work over lunch, but both of them love their work. Hiền’s husband and Lan’s older sister are hearing impaired.

Hiền said, “The more I work with the impaired, the more I feel that they are lovely and friendly.”

Director Thái Anh said that after six months of operation, the hotline received nearly 500 calls. He hopes to expand the service to other cities in the near future. VNS