The New York Society for the Deaf signed a contract with BellSouth Wireless Data to deploy BellSouth’s Interactive Paging Service to allow NYSD’s employees, half of whom are deaf, to communicate with each other via the real-time messaging device.

The NYSD is a non-profit organization of 85 years that provides social and rehabilitative services for the deaf in New York. It uses various methods of communication with its constituency-such as sign language and lip reading-to deliver such services as information and referral, social services, vocational rehabilitation and job placement as well as behavioral health care.

The agreement with BellSouth brings wireless communications to that mix. BellSouth’s Interactive Paging Service allows for real-time chat between users with Research In Motion’s [email protected] pager.

“BellSouth Wireless Data has really helped equalize the communications `playing field’ for professionals who are deaf by offering a service that provides real time communications capabilities,” said Pearl Johnson, executive director of the NYSD. “Being able to communicate anytime from any place-regardless of (telephone display device) accessibility-translates directly into a better quality of life for those who are deaf.”

The BellSouth service allows users to send text-to-voice messages from the pager to a telephone, and allows those wishing to reach the user to send operator-assisted messages to the pager. BellSouth users also can send faxes and send and receive e-mail over the Internet from the pager.

The service allows users to get messages when the pager is out of range or turned off by storing the message until the pager is available again. It also allows for nationwide roaming, covering 93 percent of the urban business population in 266 metro areas.

Wireless messaging is a highly sought after service among the deaf. The uses are endless, such as allowing hearing parents of deaf children to page their kids to come home for dinner, since yelling out the back door is obviously of no effect. Many deaf advocates have said that a two-way text pager carries as many uses as does a cell phone for the hearing.

“It’s more important for a deaf person to have a pager than a hearing one,” said Laurie Kraus, president of Soundbytes, a hearing enhancement research and sales company. “You can’t understand how cut off a deaf or hard-of-hearing person is. It’s so frustrating.”

There are several paging solutions available to the deaf, such as those provided by GA Paging and NotePage, both in oston. GA Paging, a reseller, offers a national 800 number to teletype machine users who wish to send an alphanumeric page directly from their machines. GA is the code used by TDD users at the end of each transmission, meaning “go ahead.”

NotePage created a paging engine called PageGate that uses five different front-end interfaces to dispatch text messages to alphanumeric pagers from TDD machines.

But these solutions do not allow for two-way communication. The BellSouth announcement does. Past two-way text collaboration between the deaf community and the wireless community includes an effort by SkyTel Communications Inc., which allowed 70 students and staff at the Galludet School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. to trial its SkyWriter two-way interactive paging service for free.

While two-way interactive paging is still in its infancy, two-way text messaging on mobile data networks is being marketed aggressively by data carriers. One advantage for the deaf in such wireless text “chatting” is that it is real-time, as opposed to the store-and-forward messages sent via ReFLEX networks.


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