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January 30, 2003

New telephone service for the deaf and hard of hearing

From: KAAL, MN - 30 Jan 2003

Mitchell Levy has been deaf for most of his life. But he's never let that keep him from communicating. He used to rely on what is known as a TTY - a text telephone -- to chat with family, friends and coworkers.

"My deafness has never stopped me from communicating," says Levy, "whether it's for personal or professional reasons."

But TTY's have their limitations.

"The biggest shortcoming of TTY is it is text based," says President of Hands On Ronald Obray, "and for most deaf and hard of hearing people that communicate in sign language, that is their secondary language."

It's much faster for people like Mitchell to sign rather than type - and more conversational.

"And American Sign Language (ASL)," according to Obray, "is a visual language that is grammatically much different than text based English."

Now a new video relay service from AT&T enables Mitchell to sign his conversations. Using a web camera and the Internet, he can communicate comfortably with a certified interpreter who relays the conversation over the phone to the hearing party.

"Service is absolutely free," says AT&T Relay Services Vicki Potts. "All the customer needs is high-speed Internet access and a low cost Web cam. The thing that's really great is the person receiving the call doesn't need any special equipment at all, just a standard telephone."

VRS has already changed Mitchell's life - and in time, this new technology is sure to help level the playing field for more deaf and hard of hearing people across the country.

This is Bill Foreman reporting.

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