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October 25, 2002

Gadgets Are No Luxury for Deaf Students

From: TechTV
Oct. 25, 2002

At one California school, instant messaging and other two-way communication devices aren't taken for granted.
Watch Monday 10/28 at 9:30 a.m., 6 p.m. Eastern.

By Lindsay Martell, Tech Live

On the soccer field, Marissa Mejorado is a leader.

As the precocious, sometimes shy 9 year old leads her teammates in a round of stretching on the field of her school, the California School for the Deaf, her father -- and coach -- use sign language to communicate with her and a handful of deaf girls on the team. Watch them in action tonight on "Tech Live."

As the girls, who are both hearing and deaf, exchange words, Marissa demonstrates a side stretch, her team mirroring her every move. And when it's time to kick off her cleats for the day, her father hopes technology will keep his daughter one step ahead.

"Most significantly," said Raul Mejorado, "digital communication for us is email. That's probably the first thing that affects us directly. It's our contact with the teachers, keeping up on schoolwork, finding out what they're doing on a day-to-day basis."

As a hearing member of the deaf community, Raul Mejorado acknowledges the impact technology has on his daughter, and how it continually shapes her. "Whether it's a phone that has text messaging on it, or a pager that does two-way text communication, she's also intrigued by my PDA," he says.

The California School for the Deaf in Fremont, California, fosters this interest in technology. Twenty-five to 30 staff members rely on text messaging to communicate.

Jack Lamberton, a technical resource teacher, says the WyndTell text messenger and pager makes him more accessible, both personally and professionally. "It's just like a cellphone," he said, pausing over his device. "In a meeting, you can't pick up the phone every time it rings. And so it's the same sort of thing with pagers."

The principal of the high school, Ethan Bernstein, says communicating via pagers is liberating, and a critical tool for classroom-bound teachers.

"If the teachers have an emergency, they can contact the principal through the text pager instead of having to leave the class and go to the office," Bernstein said. "With this device," he continued, "we have become much more available."

A video relay service integrated into his workstation has eased the digital communication divide as well.

"With video relay, you can actually interrupt in the middle of a conversation, and it makes it a much more naturally flowing conversation," he says, signing with his colleague via a tiny webcam.

Hear-More develops products for the deaf and hearing impaired. Most of the company's devices center around motion, such as a vibrating alarm clock. "You can put it under your pillow, or under your mattress, and it will shake," said Barry Greenblatt, a spokesperson for Hear-More. "Folks that are deaf will feel the vibration of the mattress or pillow and will wake up."

As for Marissa, the technology she's most concerned with is AOL Instant Messenger. It's almost bedtime for her friend on the East Coast, and she's waiting for the chat window to open. While she waits, she shifts anxiously in her chair, glued to an emerging movie trailer.

"She's very excited about Harry Potter," Raul Mejorado said. "She just can't sit still."

Copyright © 2002 TechTV Inc.