IM this article to a friend!

September 14, 2004

Deft fingers break down deaf barrier

From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Sept 14, 2004

By Michael Bradley
September 14, 2004

Text messaging has succeeded in breaking down the communication barrier between deaf and hearing people more than any other technology, even though it was not developed with such a purpose in mind.

This is the conclusion of a study that set out to identify Australians who have most passionately embraced the technology since its arrival in 2000.

Published in the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, the report says text messaging rates among the deaf are significantly higher than any other group. It also says that deaf people's use of mobile phones had out-stripped their use of teletypewriters by as early as 2001.

Mary Power, the report's author and associate professor of communications at Bond University, said: "[SMS] is a technology which puts deaf people on a level playing field with people who hear. It is not such a handicap to be deaf when you can use a mainstream communication technology the same way that everyone else is using it."

Dr Power said the technology had become so popular because it allowed deaf people indep- endence not previously possible.

"With SMS they can establish and maintain relationships," she said. "They can organise their own appointments, take care of their own business, contact family and friends."

The report's findings come as no surprise to Greg Leigh, the assistant chief executive of the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.

"It's hard for most people to comprehend what it was like before SMS arrived but, unequivocally, SMS is a good story for people who are deaf," Dr Leigh said.

"The great thing about it is that it gives kids who are deaf or hearing impaired access to a social interaction which was previously just not there. For many people it means no longer having to deal with a third party, which is a revolutionary change."

Dr Leigh said it was ironic that the telecommunications industry inadvertently and unintentionally developed such a life-changing tool for deaf people.

"The telephone is one of the most pervasive technologies ever invented, but it has also been close to the most disadvantaging and exclusive for deaf people," he said. "It is a great irony that telecommunications have now evolved to be the technology which puts deaf people back on the same communication level as the rest of the world."

Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald.