INDATA, Indiana’s AT Program, has a wonderful podcast, the Assistive Technology Update. Last week Wade Wingler, Vice President of Easter Seals Crossroads, interviewed Greg Gantt, Community Outreach Director for InTRAC Relay Indiana. The episode provides a helpful orientation to the world of mobile communication technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Deaf/HoH) community. In this blog post, AT3 News and Tips has bulleted some key tech takeaways. Be sure to listen to the whole podcast for more depth on how technology is transforming Deaf/HoH communication. The podcast episode is also available to view on YouTube with an ASL interpreter. Thank you Greg Gantt for these insights!
Communication Technology Game-changers for the Deaf/HH Community
For persons who are Deaf and use manual signs to communicate to one another, stand-alone videophones are no longer the primary option. Facetime on Apple devices has been a game-changer.
Text messaging has also been a game-changer for Deaf/HoH and hearing mobile device users. In the Deaf community, it started with Wyndtell devices, a text-only pager. Now the smartphone has replaced pagers as well as TTY for most Deaf/HoH people. Text messaging, Gantt notes, has gone a long way toward “leveling the playing field.” Persons who are Deaf/HoH use the same technology in the same way as hearing users and no one knows the difference.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc. have also leveled the playing field in a different way. They’ve brought Deaf/HoH into virtual communities with hearing users. Again, the technology is used in the same way by all.
Additional Popular Apps
For individuals who use manual signs:
Video Relay apps
Video Relay smartphone apps such as Z Video Relay Service, Convo, and Sorensen are edging out videophones for relay. Now a deaf person can sign to a hearing person using a smartphone app. The app connects through a relay service (where a communication assistant interprets signs into speech and speech into signs).
Video Messaging Apps
Glide is a video messaging app not originally designed for Deaf users but appropriated by the Deaf community. With Glide you can take a video and send it. The recipient opens it and replies with their own video. It bills itself as very fast. Text is also an option.
Marco Polo is another option for quick video messaging.
Snapchat allows for both text and video messaging (popular with ‘tweens and teens).
For individuals who are Hard of Hearing:
Hamilton Mobile CapTel has an app used by people who speak but can’t hear over the phone. A person who is Hard of Hearing can call a person who hears, speak for themselves, and then read the hearing person’s responses (a CapTel operator uses voice recognition to convert the hearing party’s words to text). See also InnoCaption and ClearCaptions.
Sprint IP Relay is used by individuals who are Deaf, Deafblind, Hard of Hearing or who have a speech disability. The app allows you to reach a relay operator using your mobile device over wifi. Users type messages to the person they are calling, the relay operator speaks these messages and types back the spoken replies. (Deafblind callers use devices with refreshable braille displays and a braille keyboard).
Greg Gantt’s Technology Wish List:
An app for face-to-face communication without an interpreter present. Gantt says he’s seen some emerging tech at conferences using holograms, but it’s a ways off yet.
Speech-to-text that’s accurate, fast and reliable! [See Ava for one option for hearing users communicating with a person who is deaf.]
Technology for interpreting sign language into voice. There are some glove prototypes out there, so it’s coming…
Accurate, reliable and ubiquitous closed captioning (CC) for TV and video communication! We can put a man on the moon, but we still don’t have reliable CC.