Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

German Deaf People Using Text Communication: Short Message Service, Tty, Relay Services, Fax, and E-Mail

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

German Deaf People Using Text Communication: Short Message Service, Tty, Relay Services, Fax, and E-Mail

Article excerpt

AN ONLINE SURVEY of German deaf people demonstrated that they use text communication through Short Message Service (SMS), e-mail, fax, and telephone typewriters (TTY) to communicate within communities of deaf and hearing people. SMS is used most, with more than 96% of respondents having access to a mobile phone. Most use is intrinsic and directed toward sociability (keeping in contact, and making arrangements with friends and family). However, there is some instrumental use (getting tasks or business accomplished, making appointments, and obtaining information). German survey respondents wanted a better relay service, more connectivity among the various technologies, and full interactivity in making calls by any technology. In comparison with an Australian sample, German deaf people could not rely on extensive relay services connecting people with a TTY to hearing telephone subscribers for calls of either a social or business nature.

Signing deaf people, who could once communicate only with other signing people face to face or by mail, have had their communication options transformed and extended by new electronic text technologies enabling them to communicate with both deaf and hearing people in their physical neighborhoods and far away, through Cyberspace. These communication options are sometimes limited by what has been called the "digital divide," based on the possession or lack of the hardware, the software, and the skills to enable contact through communication technology. Van Dijk (2004) has stated, for example, that "even in the technologically advanced Western and Eastern Asian countries, less than half of the population, on average, had access to the Internet in the year 2002 (p. 148)." Comparable figures are not available for deaf people, though Zazove and colleagues (2004) found that while 63% of a sample of American deaf people had used a computer, only 18% had one at home. In addition to computer unavailability, in the case of some deaf people these text communication options may also be limited by a low level of written language literacy. Zazove and colleagues found that current use of English, and having been taught in Signed English at school, were associated with higher rates of computer use.

It has been observed that the invention of new media does not necessarily cause old media to disappear. The newspaper, the cinema, radio, and the telephone have not done so, but are increasingly connected to the new digital media and making use of its possibilities. For example, van Dijk (2004) says that "several more or less virtual groups and communities are being created between mass and interpersonal communication: mailing lists, newsgroups, target groups of interactive marketing, advertising, and selling (p. 151)." He goes on to predict, A single, all-embracing medium that serves all applications and usage contacts is not a realistic prospect. It means that different social classes, age groups, and cultures might use different media, or advanced and simple types of the same medium (p. 152)." We are interested in whether, in the case of deaf people, the use of new technologies such as short message service (SMS) on mobile phones has meant that older telephone typewriter (TTY) technology is no longer used, or whether more media availability creates more media use.

The telephone, in both its fixed and mobile versions, is a useful place to start an examination of communication technologies. Mobile phones (called cellular phones in some countries) today provide opportunities for people to communicate interpersonally one to one without being tied to a definite location. Besides being a means of interpersonal communication, mobile phones provide textbased services such as weather and stock market reports, news, horoscopes, movie times, and common carrier timetables, plus graphics, photos, and videos, as well as advertisements that combine any number of these. Because some of the functions of mobile phones are text based or visual (with the arrival of videophones), it is now possible for deaf people to use the telephone. …

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