Guam new videophone service to help people with hearing disabilities

Americas, July 29 2012

GUAM: Communicating quickly with anyone not in the same building had always been a challenge for Christopher Pangelinan.

He can send email or message someone, but something as simple as picking up the phone and calling someone – an activity many take for granted – was difficult because of Pangelinan’s hearing disability.

Z-340, left, and Z-20 videophone systems are seen at the Agency for Human Resources Development on June 25. (Photo credit:

Z-340, left, and Z-20 videophone systems are seen at the Agency for Human Resources Development on June 25. (Photo credit:

Sure he could use TTY or TTD in some instances – acronyms commonly used to refer to Text Telephone or Telecommunication Device for deaf people, but the system is antiquated and cumbersome. A TTY is a special device that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate, by allowing them to type messages back and forth to one another instead of talking and listening. A TTY is required at both ends of the conversation in order to communicate.

While it can help get the basic message across, Pangelinan says it’s very hard to express tone, feeling or emotion in a short text. But last month, Pangelinan, the president of the Guam Association of the Deaf, gained access to technology he says has changed the way he communicates and hopes to share it with others who are deaf or hard of hearing on Guam.

The Z Video Relay Service is a service that provides interpreters and equipment to people who are deaf, allowing them to communicate over the phone. ZVRS has changed the way deaf people communicate worldwide and has recently reached the deaf community on Guam, Pangelinan says.

Earlier this month he organized a presentation of the technology at the University of Guam auditorium.

“It is a revolution, and a privilege to be able to call my friends and family like a normal person over the phone without having to send a text message,” Pangelinan said in sign language through an interpreter.

The ZVRS enables people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have telephone conversations using a videophone.  People who are deaf would simply make a call using the ZVRS service and an interpreter would relay the messages to and from both deaf person and hearing person, Pangelinan says.

ZVRS allows people who are deaf to place calls anywhere within the U.S. and to more than 45 countries around the world. All calls are handled professionally and are strictly confidential to ensure quality service for each user. The Federal Communications Commission has provided funding for ZVRS from the Universal Service Fund. The service is free for registered “deaf” and “hard-of-hearing” individuals, so all they have to do to gain access to the service is to apply online.

Pangelinan, with the help of Z representative Yenter Tu, is working to implement ZVRS services throughout the island, making it accessible for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing in the community. It’s an effort close to his heart as Pangelinan is persistently seeking out new ways to help improve the well being of the deaf community on island, holding monthly meetings at GCIC for the deaf community to come and share ideas.

“Imagine the possibilities and what the future has in store for us with such high-tech equipment and services offered,” Pangelinan says.

Pangelinan and Tu have been friends since graduating from the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, at Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C. Before meeting up in June to bring the technology to Guam, Pangelinan and Tu had not seen each other in more than 20 years. They finally reconnected with a motive to promote awareness of the latest technology and service for deaf people everywhere.

“I want to give back to the deaf community any way I could,” Tu said in sign language via an interpreter.

Tu, a resident of Houston, Texas, visited the island for the first time in an effort to spread awareness of the services offered for deaf individuals. Tu hopes to make an impact on the deaf community by promoting the videophone.

“This new technology bridges the communication gap between all people,” Tu says.

“People need to see and learn how this awesome service works.”

Tu explained the service is not only beneficial for deaf society, but for the community as a whole. People who are deaf or hard of hearing  now can easily connect with each other over the phone without having to worry about a communication barrier between them.


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