Jean Mobley and her sister have a hard time hearing each other on the telephone because they both suffer from hearing loss.
But Mobley hopes that situation will improve now that she has discovered a telephone that features a video screen which displays the words of callers in a large font as they speak.
“Oh, this is wonderful,” Mobley said as she recently tried out a Hamilton CapTel phone.
As she talked to another person, Mobley could adjust the volume on the big button phone and also read the other person’s words being typed by a relay communications specialist who was also on the line.
“Especially when it comes to business, I need to hear everything,” said Mobley, who usually wears hearing aids. “I will definitely get one of these and suggest it to my sister and sister-in-law, too.”
Last month during an open house and picnic at the Louisiana Relay Center, 9107 Bluebonnet Centre Blvd., Mobley and several dozen other people got to see — hear — some of the technology now available to help the deaf and hearing impaired.
Louisiana Relay, a subsidiary of Hamilton Telecommunications, is a free, 24-hour service that allows people who are hearing, hard of hearing, deaf, deaf-blind or speech-impaired to communicate with each other via the telephone.
By placing a 7-1-1 call, relay users communicate freely and confidentially with friends, family and businesses who use a standard phone, according to a company brochure.
TTY stands for text-telephone, a phone with a large keyboard to assist the deaf with telecommunications.
When a call is placed, a communications assistant facilitates the call by speaking to the hearing person while reading text from a deaf person’s TTY and then texting the hearing person’s response back to the deaf person’s phone. In some cases, a deaf person may use a cellphone or computer instead.
Danny Theaux, 58, an architectural and project engineer who lives in New Orleans, grew up as the only deaf child in the small town of Sulphur.
Decades before educators commonly mainstreamed sensory-impaired children into the classroom, he was immersed into the hearing world with the help of his parents, brother, three sisters, teachers and friends.
“Back then they thought deaf children were retarded,” Theaux said, speaking as clearly as a hearing person. “The principal didn’t want me in the school and wanted to send me away (to the school for the deaf). But the teachers were our neighbors and they got me through school. I got good grades. I was popular with the other students, too.”
Theaux, who said he tries to be a positive role model, sits on the board of directors for the Louisiana Commission for the Deaf. He is relatively fluent in sign language communicating with other deaf people but clearly speaks and reads the lips of hearing people. He wears hearing aids, but said they don’t really help much.
“My Dad paid me five cents for each word I could speak,” Theaux said with a big grin. “I learned to read lips.”
To demonstrate the latest technology, Theaux used his Blackberry to dial into his Hamilton Relay account and was connected to his parents’ home telephone in Sulphur. The connection was displayed on his Blackberry and also on a nearby laptop computer screen where the words of the conversation were typed, also called “captioned,” by a communication assistant at one of Hamilton’s five relay centers.
“In first grade they turned their nose up at him and tried to send him home but the teacher was our neighbor and she took him into the class anyway,” Theaux’s father, Robert, 86, recalled. “Everybody gave him a lot of attention, he worked hard and I would go over his work with him every night.”
To further demonstrate the available technology, Henry Brinkmann, outreach coordinator for Louisiana Relay, got on the laptop displaying the conversation, copied the text, and pasted it into an email.
“There are 59 million Americans with disabilities and 36 million of them with communication disabilities,” Brinkmann said via a communications specialist, or an interpreter. As America’s baby boomers age the numbers of those with hearing problems will grow tremendously, he said.
Brinkmann, who lost his hearing at the age of 5 due to a fever from contracting the mumps, said that deaf people are used to communicating with each other.
It is harder for hearing people to communicate with deaf people because they are not used to it, he said.
“The more you get to know a deaf person or a hard of hearing person, they are just like anyone else,” Brinkman said in sign language as his interpreter audibly spoke Brinkman’s words. “You just have to communicate a little bit differently.”
Brinkman’s message to hearing people is “we all need to find ways to communicate better together. We are all human and we all have needs.”
Theaux’s message is similar. “Just be honest and look them in the face, because many deaf people can read lips,” he said.
With the advent of smart phones, there are programs available for deaf people to split the phone’s screen to see each other signing. There are similar video programs for computers that have enabled deaf people to better communicate with each other.
Diane Taylor, Hamilton Relay Center director, agreed with Brinkman’s assessment that the baby boomers are needing more and more hearing assistance and said that is one reasons Hamilton hosts events to raise public awareness.
She did not have any statistics but said the population of deaf or hard of hearing people in the area is growing.
ON THE INTERNET:
Louisiana Relay: http://www.hamiltonrelay.com
Hamilton CapTel telephones: http://www.hamiltoncaptel.com/
Hearing Loss Association of America: http://www.hlaa.org
Louisiana Commission for the Deaf: http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/page/318