Newport restaurant first to become certified as deaf-friendly

On a recent afternoon at the new PizzaBar restaurant in Newport Beach, Tom Gruenbeck glanced down at a tablet computer and pushed a large green display labeled "interpreter."

Within moments, the device atop the bar connected him to a smiling woman, who, via the magic of live teleconferencing, helped him place an order.

In sign language, Gruenbeck indicated that he wanted pepperoni pizza and a drink.

The interpreter signed a follow-up question about the size of pizza he wanted.

"I want a really big one," Gruenbeck signed back.

The interpreter laughed before speaking his order so that Gary Decker, standing behind the tablet and listening in, could understand it.

Gruenbeck, an attorney for Language People, a Murrieta-based translation service, and Decker, PizzaBar's primary owner, were demonstrating how the restaurant's newly installed sign-language kiosk, dubbed LP Revolution, promises to be a game-changer in the restaurant world.

"This provides true equality" for the deaf community, Gruenbeck said.

"I'm excited about having it," Decker said. "There's a demand for it."

The on-demand interpreting technology is commonly used in hospitals and other businesses, Gruenbeck said. But PizzaBar is a pioneer for its use in restaurants. With the interpretation tablet, it has become Language People's first certified deaf-friendly restaurant in the United States.

"Language People is dedicated to encouraging equal access and [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance for all, including the deaf," Lisa Wrench, Language People's chief executive, said in a statement. "By introducing the LP Revolution, we are letting the world know it's time to listen to the deaf community and treat them equally."

Gruenbeck sees a lot of potential for others to install LP Revolution kiosks. Businesses pay a nominal fee for the service, he said.

PizzaBar unveiled the kiosk during a party Wednesday at the restaurant at 2201 W. Balboa Blvd. More than 85 people attended, Gruenbeck said.

The first customers to use the service were a deaf couple. The wife ordered a glass of water with a lemon wedge, Gruenbeck said. The simple request meant so much to her that she cried.

"Tears of joy," Gruenbeck said.

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