Hearing-impaired linked to law library

Interactive messages speed communications with librarians

November 16, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's law library unveiled an interactive system yesterday that allows people who are hearing- or speech-impaired to communicate directly with librarians.

The system, similar to instant messaging on a computer, gives users privacy by eliminating the intermediary used by relay systems in which a deaf or speech-impaired person types to a middleman.

"It's better without an intermediary. That is sort of the bottom line," said law library director Michael S. Miller.

He said he believes Maryland's is the first state law library in the country to go forward with such a system. Some public libraries, such as Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, have it.

"Deaf people have a choice now," Patsy D. Bowman, an administrator with the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities, said yesterday, noting that some people might prefer using the relay system. Others might want to use e-mail.

With two computers in the library linked to the system, visitors can use it instead of passing notes back and forth to communicate with a librarian.

Callers ring a library number, 410-260-1571, (or, toll-free in Maryland only, 1-877-233-3871) from a computer or TTY telephone. The message comes to a computer at the library's information desk, where a librarian types a reply. The system takes messages when the library is closed and directs callers to menus for such things as hours and library location.

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell said the system is part of a commitment to provide information to a public that increasingly seeks direct access to courts.

The law library bought the system, made by Utah-based NXi Communications Inc., from TeleSonic Inc. in Annapolis for $3,000.

Leonard Blackshear, president of TeleSonic Inc., said it gives "functionally equivalent access" to disabled patrons, whether they call from a computer or a text-type telephone.

How many people are likely to use the system is unknown, said Shirley Aronson, systems librarian. She said the law library responds to between 40 and 50 e-mail inquiries a week, and she guessed that a few come from people who are speech-impaired or deaf.

In Anne Arundel public libraries, the system gets a few calls a month, said Betty Morganstern, information and outreach librarian. "It's something we feel is important, but it isn't used all the time," she said.

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