RACs Feature Communication Aids for the Deaf

With roughly 1 to 2 percent of the U.S. population either deaf or hard of hearing, new technologies like text exchange devices can help smooth rental car transactions involving hearing impaired customers, according to the Ventura County Star.

James Barons, manager at a Enterprise Rent-a-Car branch in Rochester, N.Y., said he has seen interactions with deaf customers improve markedly after installing a text-exchange device. “It made the whole transaction of renting a car a lot smoother,” he said.

New technologies to help communication with the hearing impaired are coming into wider use. Auto repair shop owner Ken Gan needed a better way to communicate with deaf customers, so about five years ago he invented Interpretype. The small device with a keyboard and display hooks up to another Interpretype or a PC, allowing a hearing person and a deaf person to type messages to each other. Gan has sold more than 1,000 Interpretypes to schools, libraries, government offices and businesses. The basic setup starts at $995.

Other technologies are also making inroads in bridging the gap between hearing people and the deaf. The UbiDuo is similar to the Interpretype but uses two portable units, connected by wireless technology. A pair, which can be folded together, starts at $1,995.

Another technology that has seen even greater growth in recent years is the video relay service, which allows a deaf person to telephone a hearing person using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter and the deaf person communicate in sign language using a broadband video connection, while the interpreter speaks with the hearing person over a speakerphone.

And the future looks bright. A brand-new technology already being used in Europe and Japan, but not yet in the U.S., allows deaf people to communicate with each other in sign language over cell phone cameras using real-time video, according to the Ventura County Star.

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