Over one million U.S. residents are deaf or functionally deaf, and approximately 15% of the U.S. population above the age of 18 reports having some difficulty hearing. While many options are available to the deaf and hard of hearing to aid communication, more current and non-invasive techniques are always in demand. Though many with unimpaired hearing take it for granted, text messaging has been one such technology, steadily changing life for many members of the deaf community as it has grown in popularity and reach.
Many of us remember when verbal communication dominated remote contact, with phone calls and voicemail reigning before text messaging became an option for many. While these modes of contact were not entirely relegated to those with unimpaired hearing, they presented a significant obstacle to the deaf community. Verbal lines of communication are sometimes inaccessible to the deaf, and when they are not, communication may be hampered by the uncomfortable presence of a third party translator on a phone call, or the burden of asking for a translation of each voicemail.
While text messaging developed and spread due to its multifaceted convenience for all people, the deaf community has especially benefited from the shift of the world towards SMS. A more widespread dependence on text messaging means a reduction of phone calls, meaning the deaf community has been more often able to communicate autonomously.
Additionally, with the spread of text messaging, the design of cell phones has shifted towards those that facilitate texting. Phones with full, user-friendly qwerty keyboards and, more recently, touchscreen devices are not only an effect of the spike in the popularity of SMS, but a cause of the medium's further growth. These developments have only made text messaging more accessible for the deaf, boosting the popularity of SMS and making texting itself even easier.
Furthermore, texting has been implemented deeply in the infrastructure of the deaf community. At schools for the deaf, most students have mobile devices, and their use to perform functions such as ordering lunch is fairly standard. Though SMS is a widespread technology, it enjoys an especially high volume of use among many members of the deaf community, and can be put to task in very specific, functional ways.
Text messaging can still be applied in other realms to endow the deaf with more autonomy. For instance, while texting has reduced the popularity of phone calls and voicemails, these modes of communication are still used in many situations, where they are viewed as more established and professional. To minimize asking for voicemail translations, the deaf can elect to include a recorded voice message when their phone is called stating that they prefer to receive a text. This can also be done without asking for others' aid by using programs such as Text4Deaf, a platform that uses SMS to aid the deaf.
While text messaging is taken for granted by many, it has had significant consequences for the deaf community. The impact of text messaging extends so much further than many of us realize.
About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage,
Inc. a software company for communication software solutions.