Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans' Instant Message and E-Mail Use: A National Survey

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans' Instant Message and E-Mail Use: A National Survey

Article excerpt

An online survey of 884 deaf and hard of hearing adults asked about their current and past use of communication technologies, notably TrY, telecommunications relay services, email, and instant messaging (IM). Results showed that respondents were using e-mail and IM far more than ITY and relay services. The study participants virtually all had e-mail and IM at home. In fact, about one quarter had a high-speed ("broadband") connection at home. While the vast majority also had and used e-mail at work, just 1 in 3 had IM at his or her place of employment. The findings have several implications. Most important for educators is that strong reading and writing skills are essential if adults who are deaf or hard of hearing are to take advantage of today's communications technologies. Another conclusion is that some workers who are deaf or hard of hearing appear to face discrimination in employment because office policies forbid the use of a highly effective reasonable accommodation, instant messaging.

A survey of 884 deaf and hard of hearing adults revealed that most use instant messaging (IM) and e-mail services at home. While most use e-mail at work as well, just one in three use IM at their place of employment. Many of the survey participants reported that, as a matter of office policy, their employer forbade the use of IM; others said that they seldom used IM at work because the nature of their job (e.g., auto repairs) limited access to a personal computer with Internet access. Numerous survey respondents reported having high-speed ("broadband") Internet connections both at home and at work. Respondents using broadband communications evidently appreciated the fact that Internet access was, for them, an "always-on" technology (Bowe, 2002).

The survey was conducted using Survey Engine 2.0 Enterprise, a software program from Active Feedback, Santa Clara, CA ( This technology offered a number of advantages. The first was speed: Participants could gain access to the survey instrument, and post replies, very quickly. The second was cost: No expenses were incurred to print a questionnaire, mail it out, pay for business reply envelopes, enter questionnaire replies, or tabulate responses. The software obviated or automated all of those tasks. On the other hand, the researchers could not identify the "universe" of potential respondents, nor tell how many individuals chose not to respond. It was possible for individuals to respond multiple times, for instance, if they wished to "tilt" the survey results. Manual inspection of survey data indicated that very few respondents opted to submit more than one questionnaire; those duplicates were easily eliminated from the corpus of responses prior to analysis.

Perhaps the most intriguing implication of the present study is that some employers, probably out of ignorance of the accommodative nature of IM, were inadvertently discriminating against workers who were deaf or hard of hearing. Advocacy efforts by educators, rehabilitation counselors, and peer advocates are needed to make employers more aware of how IM can serve as a reasonable accommodation to facilitate intraoffice and interoffice communication.

An Overview of New Communication Technologies

New technologies are expanding the opportunities for long-distance communication for Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing. In years past, Americans with hearing loss had to rely on telecommunications devices such as TTYs and dual-party relay services. Such devices and services have three limitations. First, communication is "half-- duplex." This means that communication flows in one direction at a time; the party receiving a communication cannot interrupt or begin a reply until the communicating party has concluded a message. Second, communications under these conditions tend to be very slow. Third, these communication technologies rely heavily upon written text, making significant demands upon users' receptive communication abilities. …

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