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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 10:09 GMT
Deaf go mobile phone crazy
Texting on a mobile phone
Text messages are short, often incomplete sentences
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over developments in the world of technology

Over the last few years, the mobile phone has emerged as a popular device for what at first may seem an unlikely user group: the deaf and other people who are hard of hearing.

Using the Short Messaging Service (SMS) functions on mobiles, people with hearing difficulties can communicate by typing messages into their phones.

By setting their mobile phones to vibrate, they can be alerted when a message comes in.

There are no exact figures on how many of the 8.7 million deaf or hard of hearing people in the UK use mobiles and text messaging, but their increasing adoption of this technology is certainly contributing to the more than one billion text messages a month now being sent in Britain.

HAVE YOUR SAY This usage shows how a group of people can take up a technology that was not initially designed or marketed to them, and adapt it to suit their own needs and purposes.

The clear advantage of mobile phones is their mobility - you can take them anywhere.

Moreover, mobiles are ubiquitous in the UK. They do not call attention to their users, marking them out as different.

Cost of texting

Mobiles do pose some potential difficulties for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Text messages are short, clipped and often incomplete sentences - so they carry a built-in potential for misinterpretation.

With over 50,000 people having sign language as their first or preferred language, the inputting and reading of English text messages can become even more difficult.

Texting quickly becomes expensive, and SMS messages cannot always be counted on to be immediately received.

Perhaps even more significantly, some mobile phones can interfere with nearby hearing aids within a one-metre radius.

Courting deaf users

Nokia 9210 Communicator
Nokia 9210 offers features for messaging
As the technology was not developed with this community in mind, operators and manufacturers have been slow to tailor offerings for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Things are changing, as Lisa Watch at the Royal National Institute for the Deaf points out.

The new Nokia 9210 Communicator offers enhanced features for mobile messaging.

And the operator One2One now aims special packages for cheaper texting at people with hearing difficulties.

Several devices also exist that try to stop mobile phones interfering with hearing aids, including one from mobile operator Orange.

Are you deaf or hard of hearing and use a mobile phone? Tell us what difference it has made in your life?

HAVE YOUR SAY


Will phone companies now give discounts to registered deaf users?

Bret Adsley, Wales
I have used SMS since five years ago, for communication with my deaf parents and friends. It's made a big difference to my life and keeping in touch especially if you live far away from your family and friends. It is the best thing to communicate within the deaf community. I hope that Nokia and other companies will realised that SMS is very useful to the deaf and hard of hearing community and make it cheaper for us to use.
David Dutton, Hampshire, UK

Surely now with the benefits and secure user base of text SMS, competitive rates will enter the market place and the cost may drop? Will phone companies now give discounts to registered deaf users? They have a moral opportunity to win a massive new user group.
Bret Adsley, Wales

I am deaf and have been using a mobile phone for almost two years. I have never used it to have a voice conversation but almost exclusively for text messaging. This made a massive difference in my life, especially my social life as anyone could just text me and say 'wanna go for a drink?' I would thoroughly recommend using this technology to any deaf person. The only problem is that copious text messaging can result in rather expensive conversations.
GW, UK


The shape of the mobile does not help as they do not cup round the ear and block out ambient sound in the way that the old-style phone earpieces used to.

Jane, Somerset
I hope the device to stop mobiles interfering with hearing aids becomes cheaply and generally available soon. At the moment I have to take my hearing aid out to use a mobile, which is, shall we say, counter-productive! The shape of the mobile does not help as they do not cup round the ear and block out ambient sound in the way that the old-style phone earpieces used to. (By the way I am not an old fogey, I am a young 40-year-old)
Jane, Somerset

A GSM company in Sri Lanka called Dialog is offering unlimited SMS to any deaf person for a low monthly rental of a couple of pounds. I think this is one of the first packages to be offering to such people.
Lahiruwan, Sri Lanka

I am deaf myself and I use mobile phone to send text messages to my friends and family. I found it very good. I don't know what to do without it. It's part of my life, just like e-mail! I think all phone companies should be more aware about this and develop something better for deaf and hard of hearing people ie vibrate feature on all phones, check remaining credits on display and not by listening to it.
Tony Sutton, Norwich, UK

I am hard of hearing and recently bought a mobile for the first time to text. I quickly found that it was not very convenient except for emergencies when it was not totally reliable. Also, it is hard to feel the vibration. As a huge fan of the net and e-mail, I found it was a disappointment. Still, technology develops and perhaps in time this will be a more useful tool.
James, UK

I'm not actually hard of hearing but my brother is. We find the SMS texting system extremely useful especially when on the move. Changes of venue or times to meet where previously quite perilous as you can imagine. Now my brother has much more independence. Initially however, the providers allowed messages free of charge but now it can prove to be expensive as they have realised the potential.
Declan Toomey, England


What annoys me is that the phone companies totally disregarded hearing aid users

Cliff Docherty, UK
I am partially deaf, quite seriously so, and always thought I couldn't manage on a mobile phone. Then I tried a friend's and found that provided I put the volume on absolute maximum I could more or less cope. Some phones though simply do not have enough volume, so I have had to be picky. What annoys me is that the phone companies totally disregarded hearing aid users to begin with, by taking no notice of the pleas from the hearing aid companies to develop the technology in such a way as to not interfere with hearing aids. At least the phone networks, as opposed to the manufacturers, have a more enlightened attitude. One2One should be congratulated for reducing the cost of text messaging for deaf people who cannot use the regular voice feature.
Cliff Docherty, UK

If you are deaf or hard of hearing there is only one UK network to be on, Genie. They give you 600 free SMS/month on just a 20 a month tariff, meaning you are getting 40 of free text essentially each month. I signed up even before they put the 600 limit on and I sent thousands a month just for 20.
Jamie Nelson-Singer, Wimbledon, London, UK

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You can hear Jon on Go Digital, which is webcast on BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT. Or you can listen to the programme on BBC World Service radio on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
See also:

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25 Jan 02 | Business
Signs of hope for mobile makers
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Text message voting to be trialled
10 Jun 01 | New Media
BBC 'breaks txt record'
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