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Newport Beach uses mobile technology to reach out to the hearing-impaired

Newport Beach uses mobile technology to reach out to the hearing-impaired
Newport Beach, which has been named a "Deaf-Friendly City," has employed new technology to make services more accessible to the hearing impaired. (Allen Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Newport Beach is using mobile technology to connect deaf and hard-of-hearing people with municipal services, officials said.

Officials recently placed special computer tablets at City Hall, libraries and other facilities so people who need sign-language interpretation can have an on-demand, real-time remote video conference with interpreters.

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The free service also connects hearing, non-English-speaking people with spoken interpretation. The city is believed to be among the first in the country to provide such services.

"When I first envisioned the need to connect all residents and visitors with city services, I did not think the city would be leading the way," Newport Beach Mayor Kevin Muldoon said in a statement.

The city has contracted with Language People Inc., a Murrieta-based language-services company, to provide the service. The company's proprietary application is already in use in some public places across the country, including hospitals and schools.

"They're setting an example for the rest of the country," Jeff Stroud, a spokesman for Language People, said of Newport Beach's efforts to provide more accessibility to residents with hearing impairment.

Stroud said this kind of service will become more common now that the technology exists to make interpretation — which is required under federal law — easier and more cost-effective.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public places to provide auxiliary means of communication for people who need it.

But, Stroud said, at the time the law was passed in 1990, videoconferencing technology didn't exist. In-person interpretation was best, and if having an in-house interpreter presented an undue burden, an organization was exempt.

Residents and visitors can use the app at the following locations during regular business hours:

*Newport Coast Community Center, 6401 San Joaquin Hills Road

*Oasis Senior Center, 801 Narcissus Ave.• Marina Park, 1600 W. Balboa Blvd.

*Central Library, 1000 Avocado Ave.• Mariners Library, 1300 Irvine Ave.

*City clerk's office and the permit center at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Drive

Hillary Davis writes for the Daily Pilot.

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