Scouts learn about technology geared toward deaf community, earn merit badge

Posted at 9:54 PM, Jan 03, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY --- Nearly 100 Boy Scouts teamed up this week to earn a hi-tech merit badge together.

The badge used to simply be called the "computers" merit badge, but technology has come a long way since the badge was created in 1967--and it has recently been revamped and renamed the “digital technology” merit badge.

The new merit badge now emphasizes application of technology in modern society.

Scouts from troop 1494 of Tooele got a hands-on experience this week with technology that helps those who are deaf communicate with others. The troop visited Sorenson Communications and learned about a video relay service. The service allows someone who is deaf to make a phone call via the use of video and an American Sign Language interpreter.

"Just as communication technologies for the hearing have advanced, so are they for deaf people,” said Sorenson Communications PR Director Ann Bardsley. “We are very pleased with the innovations that we have developed for our deaf audience.”

Sorenson said the deaf person and the interpreter can see each other through video screens, and then the interpreter connects to the party the person who is deaf wants to call.The user signs their message, the interpreter sees it and then translates it into spoken English over the phone for the receiving party.

Kim Smith is deaf and manages training development at Sorenson Communications. She said the ability to communicate visually, rather than through the old method of typing, makes getting her message across quicker, easier and more effective.

"English is my second language, so sometimes typing back and forth could be difficult, with word choices in particular,” she said. “But with ASL, I can use my native language. I can use facial expressions, and that helps the interpreters know when to use their vocal tones and to interpret correctly. So it's really had a big impact on my life."

Smith said innovations like this are opening doors for the deaf community to do things they couldn't do before.

"The communication struggles that deaf people used to have are much less than they were before because there are more opportunities now with ,” she said. “Deaf people are able to set up their own businesses and that type of thing."

The Boy Scouts who visited Sorenson walked away with more than a merit badge about gadgets. They learned about issues real people face and how technology is improving society.

"I think it's really good that, in history there's been a lot of discrimination, and that this helps eliminate a lot of that discrimination, especially toward people who use signing to communicate,” said Gavin Michaelis of Boy Scout Troop 1494.

Bardsley said they were happy to help the scouts earn the badge.

“Sorensen is pleased to be part of helping these Boy Scouts of America earn their digital technology merit badge,” she said. “We're really pleased that they were so interested, asked really insightful, good questions, and we hope that they'll remember the information, so that when they receive a video relay call that they'll know what it is."

The video relay service is licensed by the federal government and is funded by taxpayer dollars, so there is no cost to the users.