02242021 DMV

An employee in the Montpelier office of the DMV shows the device used to better communicate with the hearing impaired.

Folks who are deaf or hard of hearing should have an easier time at their local Department of Motor Vehicles office after the state’s purchase of 11 new communications devices.

The devices consist of two small keyboards and a double-sided screen, allowing users to type messages to each other in real time, said Nancy Prescott, manager of statewide branch operations at the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.

The UbiDuo 3 devices are made by sComm and were bought with a $22,954 grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said Prescott.

According to Prescott, the wireless devices are light, portable and user-friendly. They can be easily moved from one DMV counter to the next. They don’t require much maintenance, and their batteries don’t need charging often.

“They are up and running,” said Prescott. “We formally went through training (Feb. 10) with all the supervisors, but prior to that, once we received them, we took them out of the cases and they were extremely user-friendly ... We actually had a few opportunities to use them prior to our office training, and we were able to successfully use them with individuals who were hearing impaired or hard of hearing.”

She said the “response has been absolutely remarkable, completely overwhelmed with positivity. Everybody is loving it. We had one individual who actually came in with an interpreter and decided, and stated, this was much easier to use versus going back and forth in conversation while interpreting …”

The devices don’t automatically translate one language to another, so an interpreter still would be necessary to overcome any language barrier.

Prescott said the devices get cleaned regularly as a coronavirus precaution, just like every other surface and object staff and customers routinely come into contact with.

The machines do not store information, she said.

Signs are up around the state’s DMV offices letting people know these are an option, said Prescott. One does not have to ask ahead of time to use the device, they simply indicate they want or need it when they come in.

“This is another exciting step in the modernization of Vermont’s DMV,” said DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli, in a news release. “Our focus is always on providing superior customer service, and these devices will allow for a much better experience for Vermonters who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

According to Prescott, Minoli wanted to purchase devices like these after seeing them at a conference in 2019, but it was determined that given their cost, they weren’t a priority then.

“As with many things, you have to prioritize where your budget dollars are going to go, so that was one item that had been tabled,” she said.

Laura Siegel, Deaf Independence Program coordinator at the Vermont Center for Independent Living, stated in an email that she believes the DMV is the first state agency to do something like this.

“It’s in compliance with the (Americans with Disabilities Act). So it’s a step in the right direction,” she stated. “It would be amazing to see other state agencies follow their example.”

“I think it’s wonderful the DMV has taken into consideration of expanding on communication access since I personally asked for them to create a visor card back in March,” stated Siegel. “The purpose of the visor card was to enhance communication access since many struggle to comprehend speech especially with those wearing masks.”

She stated that the UbiDuo will solve many problems for deaf people who can read and understand English, but it’s not considered best practice for deaf people who sign in American Sign Language.

“It would be great if they could do contracts to have our local Vermont ASL interpreters to communicate with those who primarily sign,” Siegel stated. “They can do contracts per minute using any virtual platform like Zoom, MS Teams, (et cetera).”

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