Shelters getting video phones to help women who are deaf

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COLUMBIA - A program to help domestic violence victims who are deaf is going to put video phones into shelters to help deaf women get help more quickly and effectively.

The program is being funded by the federal Telecommunications Relay Service fund. That money is being administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

The video phones are being provided by Sorenson Communications.

Kristy Mnich is the district manager for Sorenson Communications. She oversees operations in five states including Missouri.

Mnich said this program is an opportunity to empower women who are deaf and help them get the assistance they need. 

"I try to put myself in their shoes and imagine what it would be like to go to a domestic violence shelter. You would feel a barrier because there's no access to communication, but we have that barrier broken down because now we have access to the phone," Mnich said.

One of the service providers that will benefit from this program is Victim Support Services in Kirksville. The service center is run by Executive Director Kim LeBaron.

LeBaron said she thinks these new video phones will encourage deaf women to seek assistance.

"I think it will increase the likelihood that deaf women will access services. When they know that we are ready and able and willing to provide the best possible services and the best possible way to communicate with them they're more likely to reach out and seek help," LeBaron said.

One organization that the deaf victims will be able to contact is the Leadership through Education & Advocacy for the Deaf, or L.E.A.D., Institute.

Stephanie Logan is an active member of the Deaf community and the executive director of the L.E.A.D. Institute. She said there are nearly 600,000 deaf people in Missouri.

Logan said victims in the Deaf community are often more reluctant to get help from the shelters because they can't communicate at the shelter in their first language, American Sign Language. Victims who are deaf often have to write out their conversations at the shelter which can be inefficient and time-consuming. 

"The national statistic is that a woman will come and go from a shelter seven times before they make the decision to leave their abuser. For a deaf woman, that number doubles. The reason that it doubles is because when they go to a shelter they cant communicate with anybody or communicate effectively, but they can often communicate with their abuser," Logan said.

Logan said she hopes in the near future the number of times a victim who is deaf visits the shelter will fall drastically.

"I am so proud of this program. In my career it is one of the most exciting things I've ever done. I truly believe that it will revolutionize how deaf victims are served. It will significantly improve our response time to victims and allow us to support the shelters, and victim service providers that participate in the program to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services," Logan said.