The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announces a new service for Deaf and hard of hearing Virginians who use American Sign Language (ASL). VDH partnered with Connect Direct, a subsidiary of not-for-profit Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), to provide support in ASL for the Vaccinate Virginia Call Center during standard operational hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. ASL users have two ways to connect to this service, by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.
Virginia is the first state to provide real-time ASL support for COVID-19 and vaccine information. Callers can connect directly with ASL-fluent representatives via videophone or webcam and ask questions to get clarification on an array of issues and concerns related to COVID-19 vaccine, all in their primary language. This is important, because ASL is not English “on the hands;” it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural context different from, and uninfluenced by, English conventions. The service uses Deaf employees, including several recently-hired Deaf Virginians, who are fluent in ASL and trained to provide important information about coronavirus. This service, therefore, not only ensures communication access but is creating jobs for a historically under-employed community; research shows that compared to the nationwide average of 20%, over 40% of people with hearing loss are not in the labor force.
“Deaf people using video interpreters may not always have effective communication when making phone calls through the Video Relay Service,” said Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing director Eric Raff. “I am pleased that VDDHH was able to work with VDH to ensure Deaf people can directly call Vaccinate Virginia and get crucial and accurate information to protect their health during this pandemic.”
Vaccine Call Center for American Sign Language Support:
Vaccine Call Center can be reached 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or click the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.
“Virginia is a trailblazer, leading the way for other states to follow suit,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, M.A. “Introducing the ability for the Vaccinate Virginia call center to communicate with Virginians using ASL is an extremely important step toward vaccinating the population against COVID-19.”
“Connect Direct applauds Virginia for its dedication to its ASL-using residents,” said Craig Radford, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at CSD. “Many state services, including health services, are often inaccessible to Deaf ASL users. We encourage more state governments to follow Virginia’s lead.”
“I am proud that Virginia continues to be a national leader in health equity and is now offering ASL as an option on the statewide vaccination call center,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D.