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DHS Gives Telecommunications Devices for Deaf and Hearing-Impaired

Feb 10, 2009 — 23 telecommunication devices for the deaf, or TTYs, will soon be in the hands of people who need them as a result of a gift from the V. I. Department of Human Services Disabilities and Rehabilitation to the V.I. Association of Independent Living.
The Ultratec Superprint 4425s cost between $400 to $500, making them cost prohibitive for the average household or small business.
The TTYs will be given to deaf people to communicate with employers and others, and to generally improve the quality of their lives, according to Vernon A. Finch, administrator of DHS' Disabilities and Rehabilitation Telecommunication Services. Finch presented the devices to Felecia A. Brownlow, director of the Association for Independent Living director.
The private, non-profit association assists some 20 to 30 deaf and hearing-impaired clients, but Finch said DHS has noted a marked increase in numbers of clients with deafness and hearing impairments, especially in younger clients.
"It is so important for these devices to be utilized by our clients for a better life," Brownlow said.
Half of the devices will stay with clients on St. Thomas and half will go to St. Croix for the association's clients there.
The devices will allow deaf and hearing-impaired people to reduce their reliance on others, Brownlow said.
Three of the association's clients were on hand for the Tuesday presentation and all were able to use the devices.
One client, Shirletta Primus, who works in the Calvary Christian Academy School offices, said that she uses a TTY in her work everyday. Primus also said that she often uses text messaging on her cell phone.
Primus said the TTY was easy to use, and added she learned how to use it from reading the manual.
She said that some people calling her at work use the V.I. Relay Services for the Hearing Impaired – reached by dialing 711.
The TTYs allow deaf or hearing impaired people to communicate in writing over the telephone to other people with a TTY or with hearing people through the use of the telephone relay service offered by the phone company.
The TTYs given today look a small typewriter topped with a modem which looks like two little round bowls that hold a regular telephone's ear and mouth piece. There is also a small paper printout that comes out just in front of the hand piece of the telephone.
As a message is typed in it is displayed on the machine's monitor and printed on the paper. The message is received in real-time, character by character, if the person on the other end has a TTY.
If the person at the other end of the call is not equipped with a TTY, they get the message from a relay operator, who reads the message to the hearing person from a TTY.
Users can reach the relay by dialing 711 from any phone, any time of day, 365 days a year. The operator will ask for the phone number of the person with the TTY and then convey the voice message verbatim by typing it in. The deaf person receives it on his or her TTY, then responds to the operator and the operator conveys the message, verbatim back to the hearing person.
"Relay used to be only between TTY and voice, but now today, everyone is moving to the Internet for telecommunications," said Jim House director of public relations for Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. "Like VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) – deaf people are taking advantage of the Internet. It is cheaper, versatile (with video and text), and more widely available."
TTYs "require standard (analog) telephone lines with either pulse or tone dialing" according to the Ultratec manual. So those with digital-only phone systems may have to make modifications to employ it.
While TTY has been around for a long time, and has such shortcomings as not being able to use video or instant messaging, the technology has some advantages over e-mail and texting, like active communication.
"With a TTY you can type in real time. The other person will see your message coming letter by letter, character by character. That is an advantage. Character by character pops up so you know the other person is typing." House said. "With text messaging, the other person does not have to respond right away and you are left to wonder if you reached the person or if they left. So now we are looking for something that is functionally equivalent on the Internet for text-based communications."
House said that TTY technology is still a good thing for people who are not comfortable with computers or who do not have access to a high speed Internet connection.
Further information can be obtained by contacting the V. I. Association of Independent Living at 340-777-4978.

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