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Central Coast app setting out to break down barriers to ASL interpretation

Posted at 11:26 AM, Jul 15, 2022

For most people, an interaction as simple as ordering a custom birthday cake or calling for a tow truck seems simple but for the deaf and hard of hearing, tasks like these can leave them searching for interpreters, delaying or making some interactions near impossible.

A new app called Tive, created on the Central Coast, is helping to remove barriers in communication.

"We built the Tive app. It's a mobile app. It's also a communication platform and what we built it to achieve was essentially to allow the d/Deaf/hard of hearing and CODA community unfettered communication capabilities anywhere, anytime, wherever they may be, every day throughout lives," said Jefferson Coombs, one of the co-founders of the Tive app.

American Sign Language or ASL is vital to communication for over 1 million Americans but in many situations, ASL is not enough, an interpreter is also needed, but they can be hard to come by and many times need to be set up ahead of time.

Santa Barbara County resident Jacob Milton is Deaf and relies on interpreters often for communication. For his interview with KSBY he was joined by a certified interpreter, who was set up ahead of time.

Milton explained the frustration surrounding communication in a hearing world. "It's very frustrating for myself and for the deaf community. I mean, we have to depend on interpreters almost every day in our lives, and we definitely don't have enough interpreters around here. I mean, it really depends on the locality where you live as far as how many are available. And here on the Central Coast, there's not a lot of interpreters. And it is frustrating for me," he said.

"I see them frustrated and unable to communicate so often. It just means that they're not able to participate in. Life like anybody else would be able to," said Robin Babb, a certified interpreter on the Central Coast.

It is this problem that a group of Solvang residents set out to solve with the Tive app. Coombs said there isn't anything on the market that fills this need. "It actually doesn't exist anywhere in the form of a mobile application to have an on-demand ASL interpretation services capability and that's the fundamental feature of Tive that is meaningful, needed and differentiated right now in the marketplace," Coombs said.

It’s an idea similar to calling an Uber or a Lyft but for communication. Users can request on-demand interpretation and certified interpreters will be connected to them through the app in minutes.

"The idea that we could actually provide on-the-go, last-minute requests for interpreting in situations where it wouldn't normally be provided I think is super exciting," Babb explained. "If you want to buy a car, you're not going to have an interpreter at the car dealership. That's just not going to happen for you. It's for every situation you know, and if you want to go wine tasting in Paso Robles, if you want to go to a brewery or a little niche restaurant or somewhere in Solvang, and you want to order and have a communication with the server that's smooth, I think the Tive app is going to be perfect for that."

Even in situations where an interpreter is provided (and required by the Americans with Disabilities Act), like the hospital, interpretation can be clunky and delay care.

Dr. Christopher Hutton is an attending physician in an emergency room and familiar with the struggles of current interpretation platforms. "It really feels kind of like you're back in 1990s with some of them and, and I've used a couple different ones throughout my experiences as a physician and just seeing something that really kind of takes advantage of more modern technology and, and really kind of vaulting off of what's already there a little bit helps... helps patients get better care. And that's what for me, it was a no brainier. You know, having the ability for someone to come in and, you know, quickly access their interpretive services like Tive can offer for the deaf and hard of hearing. That's that's a great thing," Dr. Hutton said.

Babb continued to explain the danger that is possible without proper interpretation, stating, "The amount of harm that can come to somebody who has no access to information, you can't even quantify it. Honestly, it depends on what the topic is. It could be, you know, how to drive their car or how, you know, it could be what the mechanic says is wrong. It could be how much money it's going to cost to, you know, buying a car, interest rates, anything like that. It's all super important information and a lot of us take advantage of the fact that we can hear other communications around us without having to work hard at it. We've just learned a lot of stuff that way, whereas a deaf person has to have an open channel of communication, so there's a lot of missing information if there's no interpreter."

In non-life-threatening situations, requests for interpreters can take weeks to fulfill. "I've had lots of frustrating experiences when just I had requested an interpreter and they said that they couldn't find one that was not available. Nobody that had the time that I needed is available and so I had to wait for two weeks, and then finally an interpreter was available, but it's a two-week wait," Milton said. "And so it was very frustrating for me, you know, just to have a job interview, it gets delayed two weeks, so that's the kind of thing that happens around here. Very frustrating."

The app will also feature social media and news feeds tailored to the community's needs. "We're living in a time where giving people the tools and the technologies that are easy and intuitive that are designed to bring us together, that are designed to connect us as communities, that are designed to build bridges of understanding between communities that may not understand one another or just have as much familiarity with one another, this is a time for those kinds of services and tools and technology where they can bring communities together, share information and create connection. So that's really what we're about. We're about community connection, communication and bringing folks together, so we're excited to do an honor to do it," Coombs said.

Milton is hopeful for the future where more equitable communication is possible for everyone. "My hope for the future is that every place that I go to would have resources and supports, and it would be easy for one, for me to go in and just get the service I need wherever I am and for anybody, maybe they're deaf, maybe they're deaf blind, maybe they're blind. I mean, we can go anywhere," Milton said.

For more information and details on how to download the app, click here.