A new life


The dangers of cell phone use while driving, and the abuses of texting, have been in the news for a few years. While telephone technology has its down side, we don't often hear about how texting technology has improved the lives of millions of people around the world.

Until texting came onto the scene, deaf people had to rely on TTY devices to communicate with people by phone. While TTY is a useful means of communication, it can't compare to texting and that is why TTY has become obsolete in many areas of the country.

A 2010 story in a Florida newspaper, The Daily Home, noted that "While many parents do not get it, text messaging is a form of communication that is here to stay, and for the deaf community, it has turned into an essential staple of giving and receiving information. The deaf saw the potential of text messaging shortly after it was first introduced in the late 1990s."

Imagine being deaf and having to either buy a TTY machine or go somewhere every time you want to make a phone call. Or think about how hearing people were limited by their ability to make contact with deaf people in a pre-texting world.

A 2010 CBS news story explains, "Gone are the days of a deaf person driving to someone's house just to see if they are home. Wives text their deaf husbands in the basement, just as a hearing wife might yell down the stairs. Deaf teens blend in with the mall crowd since they're constantly texting, like everyone else in high school."

The report goes on to talk about one of the seats of the deaf texting revolution. "Visit the Alabama School for the Deaf, and it's impossible to miss the signs of a revolution that many hearing people simply never noticed. Most everyone at the school in Talladega has at least one handheld texting device, and some have two. At lunch, deaf diners order burgers and fries by text: Punch in the order and show it at the counter. For the first time, a generation of deaf people can communicate with the world on its terms, using cell phones, BlackBerrys or iPhones, of which some 260 million are in use in the United States."

We take a lot for granted in our daily lives, especially if we feel that we can do what we want to do without the help of devices or other people. While the deaf community may have embraced texting early on, I suspect that most hearing people don't have a clue what kind of revolution has occurred in the world of the deaf as a result of texting technology.

The fact that deaf teenagers can seamlessly blend in with their peers at the mall or on the street while they are fixated on those annoying devices is probably one of the most important mainstreaming trends ever to happen.

According to the CBS report, "Neither deaf advocacy groups nor cell providers are sure exactly how many of the nation's deaf or hard-of-hearing people use texting. A survey by a Washington-based trade group, CTIA-The Wireless Association, found that there were 257 million data-capable handheld devices in use in the United States last year, up from 228 million just a year earlier. Of those, some 50 million were smart phones or wireless-enabled PDAs."

Derek Schmitz, who graduated from the Mississippi School for the Deaf this year and is beginning Gallaudet University, said texting has made it easier for deaf people to form friendships with hearing people that would have been difficult just a few years ago. "I do use texting to communicate with hearing people," said Schmitz, 19. "(Communications) between hearing people and deaf people are improving a lot by texting."

Technology has improved communication for the deaf in ways that could never have been dreamed of only a few decades ago. Despite the fact that hearing people have so many tools at their disposal, communication among all of us, deaf or not, does not seem to have improved in quality despite the increased quantity of correspondence.

There may not be a technological fix for that.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net.


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