Videophone booths have been a part of Lexington School for the Deaf for several years, but it unveiled a new one designed by one of its deaf students on Thursday — a first for the school in Jackson Heights.
The videophone, called an ntouch VP, is an addition to the school’s set of three other booths, and was installed to highlight May as Better Hearing and Speech Month.
Stefanie Talavera, 21, a deaf senior at the school, won the first contest for designing a videophone booth sponsored by Sorenson Communications, a company that makes communication products for the deaf and hard of hearing, including the booths.
“I enjoy designing things, making beautiful things,” Talavera said, “so I wanted to see if I could do that.”
She said it took her about four hours to actually draw the design, but even longer to come up with the idea for it.
Her design features familiar images, including elements of the city skyline, the sign for “I love you” in American Sign Language, a big red apple and the school’s logo.
Talavera made the first two calls on the videophone to Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Russell Harvard, a deaf actor.
When making the call to Marshall, Talavera saw herself on the screen along with an American Sign Language interpreter who relayed the information to each person. She then made a “point-to-point” call, a call from one person directly to another without an interpreter, to Harvard. During that call she could see Harvard signing to her as she signed back to him.
Ann Bardsley, the director of public relations at Sorenson Communications, was very impressed with the design.
“Her inspiration was great because it captures the local feel of Jackson Heights,” Bardsley said.
Bardsley has been working for Sorenson for five years and said she values how closely it works with the school and how the technology helps the students.
“It connects, it bridges the communication gap between the deaf and the hearing,” she said.
Lexington School for the Deaf was founded in 1864 and is the largest school of its kind in New York State. The center educates about 350 students annually from all five boroughs.
Manuel Mosquera, chief executive officer of the school, said although other schools have videophone booths, he is proud of the new one.
“We’ve developed a very strong relationship with Sorenson, so the outside design is unique to Lexington,” Mosquera said.
He said about 12 students entered the contest. Finalists were chosen from each grade, and then a grand prize winner was picked. Talavera won an iPad 2 and the four finalists won Kindle Fire e-readers.
Ryan Mcnamara, 14, who is hard of hearing, was the 9th grade finalist.
“She did a good job on the booth and it’s cool — it’s awesome,” Ryan said. “I’m excited and happy for her, but I’ll try my best for the next time.”
After working in a clothing store for the next year, Talavera plans to attend LaGuardia Community College and eventually become a teaching assistant.