Home iPhone 4 to Get First Mobile Video Relay Service for Deaf Users

iPhone 4 to Get First Mobile Video Relay Service for Deaf Users

Apple’s face-to-face video chat for the iPhone 4, FaceTime, has been the word on the lips of many people recently, for reasons from its (ahem) innovative uses to its touching commercials. But beyond showing off haircuts and braces, the service is creating a lot of buzz in another community entirely: the deaf.

Video relay service provider ZVRS has announced what it says is the world’s first mobile VRS using Apple’s FaceTime app – a move that is likely to make the iPhone 4 the smartphone of choice for the deaf community. For the first time, deaf and hearing-impaired callers will be able to communicate not only with each other, but also with hearing individuals while they’re on the go.

While the technology behind a VRS is relatively simple, until now the service required its users to have a laptop or desktop computer with a webcam. For those of you unfamiliar with a VRS, the company gives a succinct explanation:

VRS allows deaf and hard of hearing individuals to have telephone conversations with hearing people. Using a videophone with real-time video connection, an interpreter “relays” the conversation between the two parties: voicing what the deaf person is signing to the hearing caller and translating the spoken words into American Sign Language for the deaf/hard of hearing caller to see.

According to Tamara Suiter-Ocuto, a deaf iPhone user, the iPhone 4, with its face-to-face chat capability, has already made a big splash among deaf users.

“Having FaceTime on iPhone 4 is a huge thing in the deaf community, because its the very first time any deaf individual can make a phone call to another deaf individual on their phones,” she wrote in an email. “Before, we only could communicate with each other using email, text or IM.”

Suiter-Ocuto told us that almost all of her friends have upgraded from older version iPhones to enjoy the new video capabilities, and she and her husband are no exception.

“We decided to upgrade both of our phones, even though our current iPhones are working just fine, but we both are deaf and wanted to be able to call each other whenever we’re apart,” wrote Suiter-Ocuto. “It just isn’t the same texting/e-mailing each other.”

While FaceTime will offer a much more mobile experience than any previous offering for deaf users, it does have the limitation of only operating over Wi-Fi networks and not over AT&T’s 3G. We asked ZVRS if this limitation might be lifted for its services, but have not received any response.

Details on the upcoming service are a bit light, but we know that it will launch on July 26, the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information, you can sign up on the company’s mailing list.

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