High speed for the hard of hearing

In all the talk about the larger economic benefits of high speed internet, it's easy to lose sight of the ways that this technology can touch individual lives.

High speed internet holds a lot of promise for improving the lives of the deaf and hard of hearing. Videophone service allows them to converse without relying on traditional methods like teletypewriters and texting services that are slow and awkward.

According to Janet Lambert, acting director of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission,

"Video access allows them to speak in their native language, which is American Sign Language. Technology has given an opportunity for consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing to participate in society the same way that you and I do equally."

Videophones are easy to acquire for deaf people, often for free. But for those living in rural parts of the country – or on a fixed income – the high speed internet service needed is frequently out of reach.

Edwin Carrington lives in rural Illinois – where cable and DSL service is not available. His only other option, satellite service, would cost him hundreds of dollars. With a wife and a new baby, he can't afford these exorbitant fees.

So his only option to use videophones to talk with his out-of-state family is to drive 20 minutes to use the high speed connection at a school.

"This is becoming a regular process whenever I need to call someone,” Carrington said. "If I had the VP (at home), I could show my family the baby right there on the videophone. And they’d be able to see the baby, we’d be able to talk about the baby. But if I write them a letter, I explain what the baby looks like, but they can’t see the baby.

"So that was very depressing for me, and I’ve been very frustrated with the whole situation," he said.

It's really a shame that the technology exists to improve the lives of people with disabilities, but that it is still out of reach for so many Americans.

Special phones for deaf need broadband