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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Another win for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community

Claro & Sorenson partner up to offer more accessibility services

Juan José Troche Villeneuve, executive director of the island government’s Liaison Office for the Deaf Community, pointed out that “this community speaks in a third language and these tools are necessary.”

By Richard Gutiérrez

All U.S citizens, including those residing in Puerto Rico, have the right to be in communication with the world.

However, when it comes to the deaf community, there are speech barriers that may make it much more difficult for them to communicate with the hearing world. Many people don’t know how to communicate with them because they don’t know sign language; jobs that require sign language experts may stay vacant for a long time.

About 6% of the population in Puerto Rico can’t hear, which adds up to around 192,000 people, all of whom have a right to communicate and interact with the world around them, and a right to receive services from both the government and any private entity. In terms of the latter, one phone service company is getting a head start in that direction. On Thursday, Claro announced a collaborative alliance with Sorenson, a world leader in inclusive language services, through which they will offer sign language interpreters through a digital application that allows deaf, hard-of-hearing and diverse individuals to communicate with sales representatives, effectively eliminating the communication barrier.

“Our goal is to make the experience of all our customers, including those who use sign language as a means of communication, memorable and effective,” Claro President & CEO Enrique Ortiz Montellano said.

While it may seem like a business move to some, Juan José Troche Villeneuve, executive director of the Liaison Office for the Deaf Community and interim head of the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities, believes the initiative is much more significant than it looks.

“I am very happy to be here supporting this initiative from private industry,” Troche Villaneuve said. “It is our job as the government to be responsible for providing services to deaf individuals, but it is also the responsibility of all of us to put our effort in. This is part of the development of public policies established by Puerto Rico; right now we have a government agency that is entirely dedicated to formulate and establish public policies for the integration of this community. This community speaks in a third language and these tools are necessary.”

Troche Villaneuve added that “this motivates the public sector to provide more services for the deaf community.”

“The Liaison Office, for example, has the obligation to guarantee services and transform public information and make it accessible to the deaf community, and this process has already begun,” he said. “Because of all the earthquakes and hurricanes that have happened on the island, projects to implement sign language in schools were delayed, but sooner rather than later, these will be taken up again.”

But it’s not just Troche Villaneuve who says the initiative is a great thing for Puerto Rico. Members of the deaf communities and people who assist them also believe it is very beneficial.

Alexa Hernández de Jesús, a sign language interpreter, told the STAR that “initiatives like these are extremely important so that those who can’t hear can receive services just like the hearing folks.”

Luis Díaz, a member of the deaf community and a Claro customer, said “it was a total surprise for me when they invited me here and informed me about the service that Claro will offer.”

“I was really excited,” he said. “Now they will be able to help me, because sometimes we come to these offices and they can’t help us because they don’t know the language.”

Added Kenneth Burgos of Sorenson, who also is a member of the deaf community: “This is an excellent idea and I hope other companies do the same in the future.”

“Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We need Puerto Rico to give power to the deaf community to be independent, and I think this is a very good start for that.”

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