A Quantum Change in Deaf People’s Lives: From Text to Videotelephony

Phil Harper
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When the opportunity finally arose for deaf people to access a telephone through the invention of a textphone (TTY) in the 1960s (USA), which was adopted in Europe (late 1970s, early 1980s) and Australia (1980s), a significant social barrier was removed. Deaf people were no longer dependent on hearing people to pass on their messages via the telephone. The evolution of text-based Relay Services (Sweden, 1982; USA, 1986; Australia, 1995), email, internet chat, short text messaging (SMS) on mobile phones and paging services, further enhanced deaf people’s telecommunication options. It was assumed that the telephone barrier had completely crumbled, but not for those deaf people who relied and thrived on communicating in sign language.

Because text communication is a spoken or written language, it is a second or non-preferred language for many deaf people who use sign language as their first. Exposed to written language (text) without any visual or explanatory context, they are denied the opportunity to gain a clear understanding of the meaning.

When videotelephony emerged as a viable telecommunication tool for remote communication using picture as well as voice, deaf people took note. Intense research and trialling in Europe and USA in the 1990s showed that videotelephony provided the equivalent to simultaneous real time telecommunication for those deaf people who use sign language. With the establishment of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services and the rapid increase in videotelephony usage, we have witnessed a clear paradigm shift by deaf people from text to video communication.

A current Australian research study investigates how videotelephony impacts on deaf people’s participation in the workplace. This paper reports the study outcomes and suggests implications of videotelephony use by deaf people globally.

Keywords: Deaf people, Sign language, Telecommunications, Videocommunication, Research
Stream: Human Technologies and Useability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Quantum Change in Deaf People’s Lives, A

Phil Harper

PhD student, School for Health and Social Development
Deakin University.
Victoria, Australia., Deakin University


Phil Harper
Melbourne, Australia.

Currently completing a PhD study at Deakin University, Melbourne in “Videocommunication (via the internet) and its use in the workplace with Deaf people who use sign language.”

Conference presentations:
 TDI International bi-ennial Conference, New Orleans, USA. July 2005 “Deaf people communicating by Video in the workplace.”
 RESNA 2005 Conference, Atlanta, USA. June 2005. “Reflections of a Research Insider Conducting Qualitative Research in Sign Language.”
 COMET & VELIM Conference, Sydney, Australia. June 2005. “Implications of a Video Relay Interpreting (VRI) service for Deaf people in Healthcare settings.”
 ASLIA & AUSIT Conference, Melbourne, Australia. October, 2004. “A Video Relay Service in Australia – what will it mean for Auslan interpreters?”
 DeafView II, Auckland, New Zealand. “Is there a future in videocommunication for Deaf people?”

Employment background includes:
• Consultancy work in employment and telecommunication services, Deaf sports and program development for deaf people;
• Project Officer, Deaf Telecommunications & Networking Project, AAD;
• Manager of a Statewide Deaf Advocacy and Information service;
• Lecturer at universities, colleges in Deaf studies, Deafblind services and education services for deaf people.

Member of various Advisory bodies and Boards including:
• Department of Human Services (Disability), Reference Group on Deaf Issues;
• Australian Association of the Deaf;
• World Federation of the Deaf, Experts Panel on Technology (Telecommunications);
• AAD’s Deaf Telecommunication & Networking reference group
• National Relay Service Consultative Council;
• Telstra Consumer Advisory Group, Disability Equipment Program;
• Melbourne 2005 Deaflympic Games Board.

Awarded Deaf Achiever Award, Australian Association of the Deaf in 1996 and Churchill Fellowship in 1983.

Harper, P (2003) Networking the Deaf Nation. In, Australian Journal for Communication 30(3). pp. 153-166. University of Queensland: Brisbane.

May 2005.

Ref: T06P0061