In reading Professor Pianfetti's recent blog post, I thought about the value of technology for groups with special needs, especially for students who are Deaf or hearing impaired. Before smartphones became popular, T-mobile had the sidekick. With the ability to text, instant message, and email, the Sidekick revolutionized the way the Deaf community communicated.
Historically, the Deaf community has had to deal with limited avenues for communication across time and distances. Before the teletype machine became popular, Deaf people would need to have a hearing person relay a message for them or travel to the person's house they wanted to talk to, with the possibility that their friend would not be home or would be busy. Routine social gatherings became popular, allowing Deaf individuals to be surrounded by friends who spoke the same language, sharing experiences, stories, and jokes. The Deaf community was limited to the area of which the group members could travel.
As the teletype, or the telecommunication device became more readily available, Deaf
persons were able to communicate more easily; being able to call their doctor, or a
business, or a friend when they needed to, as long as the person they were calling had a TTY as well. Soon though, the telecommunication relay service was developed to provide people who are Deaf the ability to call people who are hearing directly, even if they did not have a TTY. As technology advanced, the TRS became the VRS or video relay service. Using a webcam and the internet, Deaf people could use a live interpreter to transmit their message through their first language. With the introduction of the Sorenson Videophone, Deaf people could easily connect and communicate to other Deaf/hearing impaired persons comfortably in their own home.
Currently, the possibilities for Deaf people to communicate freely is expanding rapidly. The Sprint Video Relay Service App and now the iPhone 4 Face Time option allow quicker communication anytime, anywhere.
Telecommunication systems have improved, creating better access and greater capabilities for communicating across time and space. Along with the introduction of vlogs, Web 2.0 and mobile technology have allowed the Deaf community to expand outside the smaller neighborhood communities, as well as given exposure to a unique language and culture. Even with such improvements, what more can be done? Netflix recently has increased their list of streaming movies available with subtitles, but not all have them (http://gigaom.com/video/netflix-streaming-subtitles/). And with the thousands of educational videos on Youtube or TeacherTube that would be beneficial for the classroom, very few have subtitles. With the burgeoning repertoire of videos, clips, and presentations available for educational use, the issue of access must be thrown to the forefront of technology and education discussions. We have come a long way, but not far enough.