For Alan Martin, a videophone on campus means independence.

Martin, a deaf student majoring in Professions in Deafness with a concentration in Advocacy Services for the Deaf, uses the new system in Jackson Library to place calls — to both deaf and hearing people — with privacy and security.

“I feel like this is my room when I go in,” says Martin, who has a similar system at home but lives off campus. “And before I came in, it was someone else’s room.”

The room is a small one, located on the second floor of the library tower. Students, faculty and staff check out a key at the circulation desk and return it when they have made their calls. There is no cost to them.

Martin can talk to friends who sign and have similar videophone systems — like his pal Chastity in the North Carolina mountains — without going through an interpreter. He can talk to non-signing people — like his dad — with the help of a skilled interpreter bound by a code of ethics much like the phone operators who ran the old pegboard systems.

Before the advent of the relatively new videophone technology — Martin got his home system in 2003 — deaf people made extra car trips hoping to converse in person, or struggled with teletype machines that were at best annoying and at worst left them feeling disconnected.

“Videophones make the deaf person feel more involved in communication,” Martin says. “We can’t live without this kind of technology. Having this makes us more independent and things are more private for us.”

Sorenson Communications provides video interpreting services and offers videophones at no charge for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Sorenson generally serves only deaf individuals, but Sam Parker, a clinical professor in Specialized Education Services, worked with the company to install eight videophones on campus for use by deaf professors, staff and students as well as students learning to be deaf interpreters.

The library is a key location because of its extended hours, Parker says. When a room there finally became available, he jumped at the chance.

Although it is hard to know exactly how many students on campus are deaf or hard of hearing, about 10 percent of the overall population falls into those categories, says Parker, the hearing son of two deaf parents. They deserve effective communication tools just like anyone else.

“My only regret is that this technology wasn’t available 30 years ago,” he says wistfully. Wouldn’t it have been nice to talk to his parents so easily? Although he is expert at ASL (American Sign Language), signing doesn’t help at a distance without video.

“It’s like going to their porch and sitting in a rocking chair and asking, ‘How’s your day?'” Martin says.