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Deaf Community:  Telecommunications

Jamie Peck


Telecommunications and the Deaf


For the past decade, or better, telecommunication for the deaf has been done primarily with the use of TTY's. If you've ever seen one of these, then you know there entirely cumbersome and they make simple conversation a daunting task. There not an item that you can stow in your pocket like a cell phone or something that can serve several purposes as does a computer. Conversations are done with long pauses in between each submission, making it a miserable way to simply communicate. This is why email and instant messaging services have become so readily used and are viewed by many has a blessing whether you are deaf or not.

Some where along the lines, companies began listening to the deaf community and embarked on the design and production of video relay phones. What these devices have done for the deaf community is allow them to communicate to their fullest degree. This is because American Sign Language is more than simple hand gestures and finger-spelling, it encompasses the entire body and relies heavily on facial expression to relay the tone of the conversation. Now people everywhere are able to keep in contact with friends and family the way they want to, naturally. But the development of these devices didn't exactly go off without a hitch.

According to Customer Relationship Magazine, "Users couldn't tell if the call was in queue or not because there wasn't any visual messages displayed saying that you were connected (Bailor, 2005)". I'm not exactly sure how long it took these companies to figure this problem out, but "CosmoCom" managed to identify and resolve the issue by 2005. They improved their customer experiences with the IVVR (interactive voice and video response) which displays "video menu's for navigation and messages that let you know that your call has been received and is in queue (Bailor, 2006)". But even with these new designs, there are still limitations in the available technology.

Deaf professionals everywhere are demanding that they too need better technology, that the deaf need cell phones as well; and not just for texting and email purposes. What I located was an article in PC Magazine that addressed this issue specifically. Typical "pocket PC's, smart phones and similar devices are unable to communicate with TTY/TDD machines", making these types of communication devices practically useless to the deaf (Machrone, 2004). But there are other devices out there that can do just this. They are the well known "BlackBerry's, Sidekicks, Treo, and Palm devices" that we see everyone carrying and what they allow you to do is "use your keyboard phone as a TTY device" (Machrone, 2004). It is "Lormar Logic that offers this service and is called Lormar Internet TTY. This service even allows you to reach relay operators" when needed which comes in handy when you need a voice (Machrone, 2004).

In the end, what seems to weigh more heavily in the outcome is whether or not the latest technologies are increasing the quality of life for the deaf, hard of hearing and their family and friends. I came across a comparative longitudinal study that aimed to answer this exactly. The comparison was between text telephone systems and video response service systems (VRS). Users were followed and surveyed over a 10 year span and surveyed on their use of these systems in private and in the workplace. Results showed that "there was indeed a preference of one system over the other, and that neither system increased the quality of ones life (Gotherstrom, U. 2004)". The VRS was found to "enhance certain aspects by increasing the quality of service" when compared to the text telephone system alone (Gotherstrom, U. 2004). The probability is that the "sample size of the group was too small to measure any significant change" in the quality of life and we could most possibly note a major difference if sample size were much larger (Gotherstrom, U. 2004).

Ultimately, we need these systems to increase their capabilities and user friendliness in order to facilitate the growing number of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. These kinds of devices by every measure generate a greater quality of life by establishing the means to maintain communication and independence for every user. One last suggestion is to eliminate the middle man, or interpreter, when there are two or more deaf individuals trying to converse with one another. "Skype" is web based system that I use most often when communicating with friends overseas. It is extremely user friendly, and all you need is a compatible web cam, a computer, and their free service available by download. Instant interface is completed within seconds and you'll never miss a moment of the conversation or its intended meaning.


Machrone, B. (2004). I Know You Talk to Bill Gates [Electronic Version]. PC Magazine, December 14, 2004, 23, (22), p 71 0888-8507.

Bailor, C. (2006). A Sign of the Times: CosmoCom helps hearing impaired callers stay connected [Electronic Version]. CRM Magazine, June, 2006, 10, (6), p43 1529-8728.

Gotherstrom, U.C., Persson, J., & Jonsson, D. (2004). A comparative study of text telephone and videophone relay services [Electronic version]. Technology & Disability; 2004, 16, (2), p101-109.

Also see: Telecommunications article by Todd English

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