[nfbwatlk] Device opens doors of communication (for deaf-blind), Olympian 6-15-09 Device opens doors of communication

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Thu Jun 18 14:51:27 UTC 2009

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 8:49 AM
Subject: FW: FYI: Olympian 6-15-09 Device opens doors of communication

From: Stevenson, Jim H. (DSHS/HRSA)
Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 2:33 PM
Subject: FYI: Olympian 6-15-09 Device opens doors of communication

June 15, 2009
Device opens doors of communication

The Olympian

People who are both deaf and blind still have ways to communicate. Carrying cards with messages such as "Which is bus is number 54?" can help them communicate with strangers.

Many deaf and blind people can understand letters traced on their palm to spell out an answer. But the method isn't perfect.

"Most deaf-blind people do use print-on-palm communications," but not everyone in the public understands how to communicate with them, said Ryan Bondroff, a program manager in the state Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The new DeafBlind Communicator is aimed at fixing that. The user hands a cell phone to whomever they wish to communicate with, and what follows essentially is text messaging, but on an unprecedented device developed jointly by the state and private industry. It was released this month.

Demonstrating the new equipment, Bondroff typed a message on the keyboard of a book-sized device slung around his shoulder.

"Deaf-blind people who need to use it for communication in a variety of settings on a daily basis," reads the message on the cell phone.

Replying was as simple as typing on the cell phone's full keyboard and hitting the send button.

The device Bondroff held also has a Braille board. Pegs rise up in sequence to spell out the reply. He read it with his fingertips.

The DBC, as it is called, replaces telephone-based equipment for deaf-blind users that is largely out of use, said Colleen Rozmaryn, an agency manager in communication technology.

Those were Tele-type Text Telephones, adapted to translate the spoken word on one end to Braille on the other. The manufacturer of the 1980s technology disbanded years ago, according to the department.

A combination of deafness and blindness is rare, and there is a limited market for even the new communicator.

The state received its first shipment of 35 communicators this month and has received 13 requests for them.

"I ran around for years talking about orphan technology: highly sophisticated technology that is needed with a small group of people," Rozmaryn said. "We had to partner with some company in the industry that saw past the bottom line."

HumanWare, a Canada-based company that specializes in products for the blind and vision-impaired, took up the project.

The Department of Social and Health Services guaranteed the company a contract and expects to deliver more than 100 of the cell phone-based devices in the next two years.

The DBC costs $8,000, but the state negotiated a price of $6,000 based on its role in developing the device. For qualified clients of the state, it will be free.

So far, the response has been rewarding, Rozmaryn said. She said an 11-year-old deaf and blind student who hadn't been using state services contacted the agency last week to ask about the DBC.

"Blogs are abuzz with this. Twitter, too. People in the deaf-blind community are talking to each other about the DBC," agency spokeswoman Deborah Schow said.

Adam Wilson: 360-753-1688 awilson at theolympian.com<mailto:awilson at theolympian.com>  www.theolympian.com/adamwilson

ON the Net

To learn more about HumanWare's device for deaf and blind people: Go to www.humanware.com<http://www.humanware.com> and type "deafblind communicator" into the search box in the upper right. Select the device name in the results.

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