Frontlines: Useful and useless technologies

We seem to be gadget mad these days, and constantly updating to the latest technology.

Personally, I don’t want a mobile phone I can watch TV on, I have a TV to do that. It’s a bit like having a washing machine that would also cook your dinner.But it seems to me that there is a gap in the market for simple, effective communication products for people who are deaf.

Texting and e-mailing you may say: well, yes, possibly, but many people find these a bit complicated, particularly if they are older people who haven’t grown up with this technology. Also, not everyone has the dexterity or the eyesight to text or control a mouse.

I’m not saying that products don’t exist for deaf people, but they’re not as good as they could be, or as well advertised. It seems that most of the investment into new products is aimed at meeting the latest fashion, rather than making communication easier.

Take my dad, he’s in his eighties and is totally deaf. He worked in the steelworks, so never had much need for typing and he does not want to learn now. So he was never keen to have a “Typetalk” phone. These have been around for some time, and would allow him to type what he wants to say, and see the reply on a screen.

However, I recently discovered that Typetalk do a “Screenphone”, which he could just speak into, but see the reply as text. So we bought this from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People at considerable expense.

Now, I am not a complete technophobe. I text, I e-mail, I know my iPod from my MP3 player, but it took three hours for dad and I to sort it out, standing in the same room, him on the screenphone, me on my mobile – then me making numerous voice calls to RNID and Typetalk until we had anything like cracked it.

So how a deaf person on their own would get this up and running I have no idea. I am not knocking the product, or Typetalk. It gives a deaf person a lifeline, but the whole procedure is very slow and cumbersome, and I can’t believe that in this day and age someone can’t invent something better.

Which I’m sure they could, if the money was put into this instead of the latest “must have” gizmo.

Jennifer Harvey is a carer and works with people with learning difficulties

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