Devices allow mobility for deaf phone users

Driadonna Roland, Democrat and Chronicle, February 1, 2011

Many people couldn't imagine living without the mobility that cell phones provide. But for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, the option to pick up the phone and call a friend or relative while on the go was an inaccessible luxury.

Technology company Sorenson Communications ® chose students at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf to be the first to see two new products designed to offer them the same mobile options as their hearing counterparts.

At a news conference Monday at NTID in Henrietta conducted in American Sign Language, Sorenson unveiled ntouch® PC and ntouch® Mobile. They are options that turn laptops and cell phones into videophones with the same Video Relay Service technology currently used by deaf individuals to place calls.

"We're not kicking and screaming here," said Ron Burdett, Sorenson's vice president of community relations. "What we want is what hearing people have. My dream has come true."

Burdett explained that Sorenson is the largest provider of Video Relay Service, which allows the deaf to place calls using a videophone device called the VP-200. The VP-200 sat on top of a television set, and an interpreter would come on the TV screen to speak English to the hearing party, then relay their answers through sign language to the deaf individual.

"We can't very well strap our videophone and TV to our hip. That's not very user-friendly," said Burdett, who is deaf.

With ntouch® PC, a computer or laptop can be turned into a videophone. The VRS software is free and works with any Internet or Wi-Fi connection.

ntouch® Mobile is compatible with the HTC EVO phone on the Sprint network. It turns the cell phone into a videophone, with features such as SignMail and e911. It even lets users set special vibration and flash patterns for different callers with the myRumble feature, essentially the equivalent of the ringtones hearing people use to identify callers.

Because the EVO® is a 4G phone on the Android platform, Sorenson President and CEO Pat Nola said it had the high bandwidth and self-facing phone needed to work with VRS. Other mobile providers will be added soon.

Many of the students in the audience were excited by the convenience the ntouch® products present.

Steve Merrill, 21, said being tethered to his TV with the VP-200 hasn’t made it easy to fit talking with his parents into his schedule.

“Sometimes they’re busy and not available to talk, sometimes they’ll call me back and I’m busy,” said the student from New Hampshire. “Then we have to send a text and make an appointment to actually have phone time.”

vThanks to the Dell laptop he won at the news conference already loaded with the PC software, Merrill said his parents would be able to call him and leave a message, and he could do the same for them.

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that hard-of-hearing individuals have products that are functionally equivalent to what the hearing community enjoys. Because it is a federal mandate, Sorenson is reimbursed by the Federal Communications Commission, allowing the company to provide services free of charge for deaf individuals.”

From Democrat and Chronicle. Reprinted with permission. Back to Article List