It is hard for most people today who can hear well to know what it would feel like to be someone who was hearing impaired before today's advanced communication technologies were invented. In just over half-a-century, the hearing impaired have gone from being virtually unable to communicate with people around the globe with any form of communication other than the written letter to being able to communicate almost just as well as the hearing. There have been several advances in technology that have greatly improved the long-distance communication abilities of the hearing impaired that everyone should know about.
The first TTY, or telephone typewriter, machine was invented in 1964, but it took many more years until TTY machines were used on a large scale. This was the first telecommunication machine that allowed the hearing impaired to communicate with people all over the world in a somewhat similar fashion to how the hearing could communicate with the traditional telephone.
This machine, which is still used today, allows someone who is hearing impaired to type on a keyboard instead of speaking. The person on the other end then transmits a message by typing on their keyboard that can then be read on a computer screen by the hearing impaired. While some hearing impaired can speak, of course, many who are born deaf have difficulty pronouncing words correctly or speaking at all, since they have never heard the words themselves.
While it was a great communication advancement for the hard-of-hearing, the system does have some drawbacks. It can be only be used to call another person or business with TTY capabilities. Early machines were also large and bulky (similar to older computers). Even so, it was a great advancement in communication among the hard-of-hearing, and there is no question that it improved many lives for decades.
While email didn't provide quite the same experience as using a real-time TTY machine, it offered another option for the hard-of-hearing to communicate. While technically believed to have been invented in 1972, it was not widely used until the late 1990s, as you likely know. As it became popular during that time period, there is little doubt that email service was likely embraced by the deaf community.
While email does rely on typed messages being transmitted back-and-forth, somewhat similar to how they are transmitted with a TTY, the advantage of email over TTY communication is that messages could be sent to anyone with a computer and email address. No special TTY machine is needed. This means communication is easier with anyone and everyone with email accounts.
3. Cell Phone Text or SMS
Cell phones were not user-friendly devices for the hearing impaired until the text message became popular around the same time as email. Like the other technologies, the text message, or SMS, was invented long before it became widely used, but communication technology is only useful when it is used by people you want to communicate with.
With cell phone text message, not only could the hearing impaired communicate with written words they were more effective at using, but they could also communicate on-the-go, just as other cell phone users could. The cell phone itself has changed many lives, but text messaging gives new freedom to the deaf who want to send quick messages to friends or loved ones without a huge hassle.
4. Video Conferencing
While the three aforementioned technologies all began with and improved on typed communication, video conferencing has taken communication among the hearing impaired to an entirely new level. Sure, everyone loves and benefits from this virtual face-to-face interaction, but the hard-of-hearing can use this technology to use sign language communication and read lips.
Video conferencing technology was introduced to the general public and hard-of-hearing off and on for many years, but it did not become the extremely user-friendly and reliable service it is today until the modern internet was able to take it to this level.
While being hearing impaired is still a struggle, there have been many great advances in long-distance communication that have greatly improved this aspect of the lives of those with hearing impairments. Next time you find yourself using one of these technologies, remember how important they are for people who can't use simple voice communication like you may be able to.