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Stanislaus County program will benefit deaf defendants

December 28, 2011 | Hogan Keyser

December 25, 2011 by Rosalio Ahumada via
-- The Stanislaus County Superior Court has joined five other county courts in a pilot program using video-conferencing technology to make American Sign Language interpreters more accessible to deaf or hearing-impaired defendants.

Officials say the technology eventually will help the courts save more than $1 million statewide.

The technology is called Video Remote Interpreting. It allows the defendant to talk face-to-face to a sign language interpreter using a large screen computer. The computer hardware is mobile, so it can be used in any family law, juvenile, traffic or criminal courtroom.

Sign language interpreters are the second highest in demand in California courts, exceeded only by Spanish interpreters. Yet there are only 35 certified sign language interpreters regularly working in the courts statewide.

This short supply of sign language interpreters creates high costs from court delays and travel expenses paid to interpreters brought in from outside the area. The video-conferencing allows the court to hire an available interpreter in another area without any delays.

"All we pay is for the interpreters' fees," said Debbie Perry, the county's courtroom services manager. "That's where the savings comes in."

The state Administrative Office of the Courts has estimated that $1.59 million will be saved statewide by reducing court delays, mileage expenses and travel costs.

No full-time interpreters

Perry said there are only three local sign language interpreters who work from time to time at the Stanislaus court, including one who has another full-time job. There are no sign language interpreters who work full time at the court.

She said interpreters have been brought in from as far away as Sacramento and the Bay Area. When it comes to trials, two sign language interpreters are needed so they can take breaks throughout long days of courtroom testimony and arguments.

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