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August 20, 2004

Deaf talkabout: A quantum leap after years of text messaging

From: Belfast Telegraph, UK - Aug 20, 2004

By Bob McCullough

20 August 2004

On Tuesday, at the office of Deaf Senior Citizens in Bangor, I sat in front of manager Stephen McWhinney's television screen and chatted by sign language with his brother Jeff in London.

I had written about this new videophone service three weeks ago and Stephen invited me to call and test it for myself. He first made sure the camera on top of the TV was correctly positioned to show me in my chair, and, seconds after dialling, I was face to face with Jeff.

After years and years of text messaging by minicom and fax, it took a little while before reality hit in and I was able to appreciate the quantum leap forward that was enabling me to talk with another deaf person with the brevity and ease hearing folk take for granted - and see him while doing so.

Unlike older systems, there is no separate screen and the pictures are shown on your ordinary TV. You just sit down, switch on, and chat with a person similarly equipped anywhere in the world. The pictures of Jeff were quite clear and I was able to lip-read him as well as sign.

"And the beauty of it all," Jeff said with a chuckle, "is that the calls won't cost you anything and you can chat as long as you like to whoever you like when you are connected to the right broadband supplier. Won't it be great to talk with your son in Japan?"

But, of course, you first have to pay for the initial setting up and this will entail roughly £23 per month for a broadband connection and a one-off £40 for the modem. The phone itself will set you back £220 so a rough estimate for the first year's use is around £500 ? cheap when you consider that most deaf people get a DLA allowance of £52 per week.

Around 175 of the phones have already been sold and, when the number reaches 500, Jeff hopes it will be recognised by professional organisations and installed in places like hospitals and police stations.

"I also see it as being very useful in isolated places such as Tyrone and Fermanagh where interpreters are few and far between," he said. "This may take some time while the professional services are made aware of the advantages, but with the small number of qualified interpreters in the province it would save long and tiring journeys from Belfast or Londonderry and provide a more wide-ranging service".

I spoke to Jeff for about five minutes and then Evelyn moved over to say a few words on screen while Jeff's wife Brigitte also came into the picture to wave goodbye. It was certainly a much more friendly and enjoyable conversation than the usual dry text messages we send to each other.

÷Mariette Mulvenna of the RNID has asked me to announce that they will have an information stand at this year's Ideal Home exhibition at the Kings Hall from September 8 to 12 and you can come and try out some of the latest equipment including the new Silent Alert paging system. Phone/text 028 90 239619

BSL interpreters will be available on Thursday and Friday from 6.30 to 8.30pm and on Saturday between 2.30 and 4.30pm.

2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd