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Assistive Technology:  Communication Devices for the Deaf

Debbie Burgett
Research Paper

Communication Devices for the Deaf

In the United States, an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 citizens use American Sign Language. This makes ASL the fourth most common language in the country (Gulati, 1997). This form of communication within the Deaf Community has been very effective. However, problems arise when the hearing need to communicate with the deaf and vice-versa. Problems can also arise for the deaf living within a culture where technology is based on hearing and sighted citizens. Laws have been passed and devices invented aimed at helping if not solving some of these problems.

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to prohibit discrimination based on disability. Title III of this act addresses what auxiliary aids professional medical offices must provide. "In general, professional offices of health care providers must provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to ensure equal access to the goods, services, facilities, privileges or accommodations that it offers, unless an undue burden or a fundamental alteration would result" (Antrim, 2004).

An auxiliary aid that an office may utilize is a TTY or text telephone. Originally invented in the 1930's for reporters to send messages, it was modified in the 1960's by Deaf scientist Robert Weitbrecht, so that the deaf could use the telephone. (FCC, 01) The Americans with Disabilities Act now requires each state to provide a relay service for TTY users. An operator will translate calls to the deaf or the hearing. Anyone in the U.S. can access this service by calling 7-1-1. (Gallaudet, 2003)

A human translator is another option for offices, but it may be difficult to find truly qualified signers. Certified interpreters are bound by a code of ethics to translate all communication, including that between doctor and nurse. This also includes non-verbal communication such as a sigh. These interpreters are also bound to maintain patient confidentiality. (Gulati 1997)

The advent of personal computers and e-mail has helped to make communication easier not only for deaf/hearing communication but also deaf/deaf communication. In the summer of 2003, Apple computer came out with iChat and iSight, a video-conferencing software and new web camera. This technology produces a video clear enough to see the fingers of a signing person allowing normal ASL conversations. (Evangelista, 2003)

Another recent invention is in the wireless industry. A laptop computer with a built in camera that does not need to be plugged to a phone line allows wireless video chatting. (Williams, 2002)

Many daily activities require special devices for the deaf. For instance, alarm clocks for the deaf will vibrate the bed to wake up the individual. Light signals communicate that the phone or the doorbell is ringing, and special sensors will tell them the baby is crying. Another helper that can do all of that is a Hearing Ear Dog.

Most people have heard of Seeing Eye Dogs, but dogs are also used to help the deaf. It can take nearly a year to train one of these dogs and there is a waiting list. These dogs help out the deaf at work as well as at home. They can alert their masters to sirens, smoke alarms, teakettles whistling, and even wake up their masters like an alarm clock. (Caroom, 1996)

Low-tech devices such as a dog or new-tech devices in computers make communication with the deaf or the hearing communities much easier. New technology is introduced everyday. Companies are seeing the need for better communication in all cultures and the deaf community is included.


Gallaudet University (2002, August 27,). Telecommunications Relay Services. Technology Access Program. Gallaudet University. Retrieved 12, Aug. 2004

FCC, (2001, Oct. 18). What is a TTY? Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved 13, Aug. 2004

Antrim, Donald A. Auxililary Aid Requirements For Individuals With Disabilities. Ohio Optometric Association. Buckingham Dolittle & Burroughs, LLP. Retrieved 31, July 2004

Gulati, M.D., Sanjay. (1997, Nov. 15). Issues to Consider in Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Patients. American Family Physician Vol. 56 Number 8. AAFP. Retrieved 31, July 2004

Williams, Norman (2002, August 27). Wireless Video Chat on a Laptop. Technology Access Program. Gallaudet University. Retrieved 30, July 2004

Evangelista, Benny (2003, Oct.6) iChat Helps the Deaf. Silicon Mountain Macintosh User Group. Voelker Research. Retrieved 31, July 2004.

Caroom, Ilene (1996, Spring) Super Hearing Dog! USBCC Newsletter. United States Border Collie Club. Retrieved 12, Aug. 2004.

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