Technology, People Help Hearing Impaired Employees

WASHINGTON, August 22, 2008—While most FBI employees find work-related communications spontaneous, those with hearing impairments face a number of challenges just to take part in standard office meetings. A recently completed initiative between the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Affairs (OEEOA) and the Information Technology Operations Division’s Network Section, brought a welcome change to the process.

Currently, the FBI has 24 employees nationwide who are deaf and use sign language to communicate. However, the Bureau only has two staff sign language interpreters; one located at FBI Headquarters and the other at the Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) in West Virginia.

Kristen Parkhouse, formerly a sign language interpreter with the OEEOA at FBI Headquarters, joined the FBI and took on the responsibility of coordinating and providing the interpreting services for deaf employees nationwide and for insuring all investigations involving persons who are deaf (i.e. suspects, witnesses, victims, associates) are provided interpreting services.

Photo of Trudy Ford, Sign Language Interpreter, helping a hearing impaired FBI
          employee communicate.

Trudy Ford, Sign Language Interpreter, helps a hearing impaired FBI employee communicate.

The OEEOA “dedicates a considerable amount of its budget to contract interpreting services,” said Ms. Parkhouse. “My co-worker, Trudy Ford at CJIS, and I traveled over 30 times a year. However, with all of this time and money being dedicated, our FBI employees who are deaf only receive on average two hours of interpreting services a week, which is inadequate.”

In August 2005, the OEEOA and employees from the Disabilities Advisory Committee attended meetings with the ITOD/Network Section/Clarksburg Technology and Operations Unit (CTOU) to discuss the possibility of using the existing Secure Video Teleconferencing (SVTC) network to provide real time access for deaf employees and interpreters.

After the group determined that a pilot test should be conducted to evaluate the technology and fine tune the equipment, the ITOD/Network Section/CTOU/SVTC program provided five Polycom via video desktop systems that were installed on FBINET workstations. CTOU worked closely with the field offices to install and activate the software and hardware. The interpreters were also provided desktop SVTC systems. Three hearing impaired employees, located at the Albany, N.Y., the Indianapolis, and the Washington, D.C., field offices, participated in this pilot program.

The pilot program was a success and the results helped document the final configuration for the system deployment. In Fiscal Year 2007, the CTOU extended these services to the remaining deaf employees and their supervisors.

Today, the SVTC network allows employees and managers to reach a remote “on-call” interpreter to conduct business in real-time. With the help of Ms. Ford and David Carlson in CJIS, hearing impaired employees can now check an on-line calendar to see the interpreter’s availability and then get an interpreter within minutes, not days.

"As a new employee in the Washington field office, I am able to access sign language interpreting services through the SVTC program,” said Jane Lee, Information Technology Specialist. “This program helps me participate in last-minute meetings and team discussions more readily. I find this very useful to me in performing my duties when there's no staff interpreter or contractor interpreter available. It is a great asset and it makes me feel more connected with my office."

Tammy MacKay, a Supervisory IT Specialist at the WFO, agrees. “The SVTC program offers us the flexibility to hold last minute meetings and provides the ability to have impromptu communication amongst co-workers. It is an invaluable system.”