Virginia added American Sign Language to its vaccine call center on Tuesday, becoming the first state to offer real-time ASL support for COVID-19 information.
Through either clicking "ASL Now" on the vaccinate.virginia.gov website where people pre-register for a shot, or by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA, deaf and hard of hearing Virginians can connect with ASL-fluent representatives and have their questions or concerns regarding vaccinations addressed.
The call center addition was done in partnership with Communication Service for the Deaf and is operated by Deaf employees, many of whom were recently hired, and who are fluent and trained in clarifying COVID information.
"Many state services, including health services, are often inaccessible to Deaf ASL users," said Craig Radford, vice president of strategy at CSD. "We encourage more state governments to follow Virginia's lead."
This is the latest in the state's push to improve language accessibility for residents wanting to sign-up for a dose through the seven-day-a-week phone line launched in February.
Last week, the VDH expanded its phone menu to include Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese — the most spoken languages in Virginia other than English and Spanish — in its language options callers can press to be connected with someone fluent.
The Americans with Disabilities requires government entities to ensure people with disabilities aren't excluded from services, and at least 37.5 million adults in the U.S. have reported having trouble hearing.
Yet access has severely lacked for deaf and hard of hearing communities, even in a years-long public health crisis, said Eric Raff, director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
And not all available options work, Raff added, using phone calls made through the Video Relay Service, a federal resource with ongoing accessibility issues, as an example.
Dr. Norman Oliver, state health commissioner, said Tuesday's announcement marked a critical move in vaccinating the state's population against the virus.
"Virginia is a trailblazer," Oliver said. "Leading the way for other states to follow suit."
For more accessible COVID-19 information, visit vddhh.org/COVID19DHHResources.htm