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June 19, 2003

Vermont's Deaf Community Crying Foul

From: WCAX, VT - Jun 19, 2003

Waterbury, Vermont - June 19, 2003

Vermont's coordinator for deaf services, Rene Pellerin, uses specialized devices like a web cam and computerized TeleType (or "TTY") to keep in touch with friends and business associates all over the country. But as helpful as these technologies are, they're not portable.

Handheld wireless messengers, which look like pagers and function similarly, are gaining popularity amongst the deaf community. They're helping deaf and hard-of-hearing people stay "connected" outside their homes or workplaces. But there's a problem: the messengers don't work in many Vermont cities and towns.

Pellerin says, "I'd like to see full access in the state." Michelle Abure and Shawn Callaghan, both deaf, say, "There's no reception in Barre, but in Montpelier, yes. There is reception in White River, but not out of town. There are many deaf people in Brattleboro, but these don't work at all there."

There are nearly 26,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Vermont. About 2,000 of them communicate primarily through sign language. They say being able to use wireless messengers would put them on equal footing with the larger, hearing-abled community. Abure says, "With this technology, Vermont is behind the times." Callaghan says, "Yes, I would agree with her."

Getting the pagers up and working in Vermont would take the construction of more wireless towers. But since the deaf community in Vermont is relatively small, installing the towers hasn't been businesses' top priority.

Kelly Lowry, of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, says, "Everyone knows that cell towers will come to the state of Vermont. We just need to plan for their placement. If a cell tower is badly placed, it can have significant environmental and aesthetic impact." Rene Pellerin agrees: "I certainly am an advocate for a perfect view, but these days, people are putting towers in very interesting places. I know that Verizon has used some fake trees or church towers that people can use."

While the deaf community waits for changes to come -- they'll keep finding ways around barriers put in their way by both their disabilities and life in a small rural state.

Channel 3 News contacted several wireless service providers today about their coverage. One of them, Verizon, said that because the messaging technology is still relatively new, they don't yet have any concrete plans to increase coverage in our area. However, Verizon tells Channel 3 News that they recognize the deaf community as an important customer base they hope to serve in the future.

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