Cisco TelePresence Centers are located around the world—including The White House—and offer high-definition videoconferencing that makes it seem as though everyone is seated in the same room, at the same table. Most are used by executives who find it a less expensive and more immediate option than traveling to meetings.
Cisco Systems, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., donated the equipment, installation, and engineers to create the customized 14-seat room at RIT/NTID, ensuring the audio and lighting match that in other TelePresence Centers. The TelePresence room, the largest between Toronto and Albany, is filled with three 65-inch monitors placed next to each other. Additional monitors are above the main monitors and can be used for captioning. A smaller TelePresence system was also donated and is based in another location at RIT/NTID. The donation was made to RIT/NTID as part of a one-year Cisco research grant funded by Silicon Valley Community Foundation so that research and recommendations can be given to Cisco to help improve its technology to work effectively for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.
The bulk of the reseach has involved how the center is best used to accommodate participants who are deaf or hard of hearing to ensure TelePresence Centers are fully accessible. The technology enables interpreters to be miles away from a deaf person attending the teleconference meeting. The impact could allow businesses and classrooms to be more inclusive, especially in areas where sign language interterpreters may be hard to find. It could also be used for distance learning programs.
During their research, NTID found it wasn't easy to determine where interpreters needed to be situated in order to be effective and not obstructive.
Christine Monikowski, a professor in NTID's American sign language and interpreting education department, said interpreters appreciated being part of the research process. "We wanted interpreters to help determine best practices for our field. We needed to actually have them here to ensure that the data collected —including appropriate placement and visual access—was accurate."
The TelePresence Center also was put to practical use during the 2012 NTID Job Fair after Cisco engineer Shraddha Chaplot suggested attending the fair via TelePresence. Dozens of RIT/NTID students sat at the table for interviews by Chaplot in California. Cisco previously hired RIT/NTID students for summer co-ops in the summer of 2011.
After the year of planned research ended, a meeting was held to determine what was learned.
"I can envision the technology used in tutoring, mentoring, and remote interpreting," says E. William Clymer, associate director of NTID's Center on Access Technology. "We envision the day an interpreter won't come into this office, but would link to a TelePresence Center on a laptop."
The center at RIT/NTID has enabled interactions with other universities with similar technology in India. The technology has also spurred interest by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and officials in Japan who were developing reports on emergency communications.
"This really ties into our mission," says James DeCaro, director of the Center on Access Technology. "This is the future. There aren't going to be 5,000 students here. It's us reaching out to them and our becoming a national center."
Chaplot, who led the effort on the TelePresence donation and research grant, said she is proud of Cisco's partnership with RIT/NTID.
"From the research they did regarding TelePresence uses for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to the summer interns we brought to Cisco, it has been an eye-opening experience in every way," she says.
Chaplot said Cisco plans to incorporate the recommended best practices into the company's user guides for TelePresence. "Our partnership with RIT/NTID is strong and we will continue researching TelePresence to determine how we can make it more accessible for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. By doing so, I am sure we will enhance an experience that is usable by and benefits everyone."
Gary Behm, an assistant professor in NTID's engineering studies department and director of NTID's Center on Access Technology's Innovation Lab, says the collaboration between Cisco and RIT/NTID "provides excellent opportunities for the development team review to meet deaf and hard-of-hearing students' needs in the educational environment as well as for our students and faculty to perform their scholarship work."
Plans are to continue research with the center to develop an avatar that can use and understand sign language.