FYI: Instant messaging a tool for equality
ginettep at seals.org
Mon Mar 26 10:09:05 PST 2001
Published Monday, March 19, 2001, in the Akron Beacon Journal.
Instant messaging a tool for equality
Hearing-impaired people embrace newest technology because it opens lines of
communication across globe
BY PAULA FELPS
Dallas Morning News
DALLAS: For much of the population, instant messaging has been a convenient
way to expedite online conversations. To the hearing-impaired, however, IM
has meant much more.
``It's as if the telephone or talking films had been invented all over
again, but this time, instead of missing out on such a life-altering
experience, deaf and hard-of-hearing people are able to reap the benefits,''
said Jamie Berke, who is the guide for About.com's deafness/hard of hearing
site. ``Instant messaging has been a tool for equality.''
Many in the deaf community view modern technology as something that has
leveled the playing field, opening up lines of communication that many never
``Speaking for myself, the greatest advantage is that it has made me more
equal to hearing people,'' Berke said. ``I can discuss important matters
with co-workers, my editors at About.com, and others. In addition, it makes
it possible for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to have friendly banter with
The Internet offers a number of online resources, meeting places and chat
rooms for the hearing-impaired. Grant W. Laird Jr., founder, owner and CEO
of the Dallas-based Deaf Network, said it has forever changed the lives of
the people who are plugged into cyberspace. In particular, instant messaging
has become one of the primary means of communication among members of the
deaf community, as well as between the deaf and hearing population.
``Every deaf individual or family who has Internet access at work and/or at
home has IM,'' Laird said. ``You can communicate with anyone, even hearing
families, co-workers, friends and strangers, without any assistance.''
Since the formation of the Deaf Network in 1997, the membership has grown to
include more than 1,000 e-mail addresses in the organization's database,
He says the trend for using IM in the hearing-impaired community goes back
to 1995, when AOL members began using buddy lists and instant messaging.
``A majority of the deaf community are AOL members. As time went by, it grew
like crazy. Not just for the deaf community, but everywhere.''
The possibilities created by instant messaging tackle obstacles that the
deaf community has had to work around for years -- such as scheduling
meetings. No longer do the hearing-impaired require a signing interpreter or
other meeting facilitator to participate.
``I've heard about people who set up an appointment on live chat, then get
everyone from their group online together. They may be from all over the
U.S.,'' Laird pointed out. ``For example, the Texas Association of the Deaf
has officers from cities all over Texas, and we simply get together (online)
and discuss important issues quickly and simply.''
He said tasks such as contacting customer service departments, which now
have e-mail and IM capabilities, are not only less expensive for the
companies, but less frustrating for the hearing-impaired.
The practical applications are beneficial, but the emotional rewards are
much greater. Brenden Gilbert, chief in technology for the Deaf Network,
said instant messaging has finally provided the hearing-impaired with a
convenient way to do what most of the population already does every day --
talk to family, friends and co-workers whenever they want.
``Hearing people have the advantage of cellphones or telephones which can
call anywhere, anytime. We don't,'' he explained. ``Instant messaging is the
next best thing to a phone, and it's incredibly free. I consider AOL Instant
Messenger, Yahoo Pager and ICQ my permanent message buddies 24 hours a day.
I leave them on, 24 hours a day. I'm sure many other deaf people do that,
He said he is particularly excited about the new AOL two-way pager, which is
based on Research In Motion's Blackberry e-mail device. The pager, released
late last year, allows for users to communicate ``on the go'' with AOL's
e-mail and IM programs. The device costs $330 in addition to a monthly
service fee of $19.95, which means those who find a desktop system too
pricey still can reap the benefits of IM.
Before technology expanded to include the Internet, those with hearing
impairments relied on TTY (a teletypewriter for the deaf) and TDD (a
telecommunications device for the deaf) for communicating with the speaking
world. For those with PCs, there's no comparison between the technologies.
TTY ``is completely separated from a PC and it has no color or size
adjustment, one line of text, no printer on most machines and it is not
free,'' Laird said. ``It costs an average of $300 a machine. They still sell
them today, and, of course, we still use it when we have to. But with TTY,
you have to call Texas Relay Service to make calls.
``With IM, you can communicate with anyone, even the hearing, without any
assistance. You can talk to family, co-workers, friends and strangers.
There's just less hassle and less frustration. You have the opportunity to
stay closer to a deaf friend or family (member). There's no more feeling
In addition to the affordability issue, About.com's Berke said that IM is
easier to use than a TTY and compares its advantages to having an online
chat instead of a telephone conversation.
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