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July 12, 2003

Technology opens up possibilities for the deaf

From: Press of Atlantic City, NJ - Jul 12, 2003

By ALAN RAPPEPORT Staff Writer, (609) 272-7219

ATLANTIC CITY - Those who condemn text messaging and portable e-mail devices as distracting annoyances and societal plagues don't know the effect such gadgets have on the deaf community.

For many in the deaf community, wireless devices are not just convenient, they are keys to independence.

As the New Jersey Association for the Deaf conference began here Friday night, each committee member was handed a bag with a telecommunications company's logo emblazoned on the back.

Most of the advertisements in the weekend itinerary book were for relay services and messaging systems that allow the deaf easier communication with each other and the hearing. But most people at the conference could ignore those, as they already had their own portable device hooked on to a belt or tucked away in a purse.

"It allows deaf people to be a lot more independent," Meghan Raione, a former Ms. Deaf America, said through an interpreter while demonstrating how her "Sidekick" device sends and receives text messages and transforms into a cell phone. "It's incredible. Before, my communication was much more limited."

Raione estimated that four out of five deaf people use such devices.

"If you're away from home, you can get in contact with someone," Carl Anderson, president of NJAD said through an interpreter. "There definitely is a big change."

For years, deaf people have used text telephone devices, or TTY, to communicate with people far away. The device would let them type a message that would be relayed through an operator to the person on the phone line. The response would be relayed back to them in text form.

Now Web sites such as sell gadgets that range from $179 to $399 in price and provide instant messaging, e-mail and news alerts, among other features.

"I have less fear of traveling," Philip Moos said, showing off how well his pocket-sized pager with a small keyboard worked inside the Sheraton Hotel.

Moos said the device saved him when his car broke down on the expressway. It was also be helpful when his daughter, who is not deaf, needed to be picked up somewhere.

The constant news and weather alerts open up a new world of instant information to people who sometimes feel cut off, Moos said.

Moos, 58, pays $45 per month for unlimited service. He has used this device for more than a year.

TTY machines, which are not portable, have declined in popularity now that wireless service has become so popular, said Eli Pogue, NJAD chairman, through an interpreter.

"Now if you don't have a pager, people are like, 'Why don't you have one?'" Raione said.

The conference, which runs through today, will feature the Ms. Deaf New Jersey Pageant as well as workshops on deaf independence.

© 2003 Press of Atlantic City