Video Phone Technology

Today is an amazing time for deaf people, with an array of communication tools available for communicating with each other that is much faster and more elegant than the TTY. Now, we can IM, text, and email each other. Imagine signing with your phone! You can do that now with Video Phone technology.

Video Phone technology started out as an idea in the late 1800s, believe it or not. Physics, chemistry, and materials science needed to make video phone technology possible would not be in place until the 1920s. It was first used in electromechanical television. All-electronic video and television would not be possible until 1939. Believe it or not, “video” was coined around 1935, and “video telephone” was already coined between 1935 and 1950, and then “videophone” got into the vocabulary shortly after 1950. One of the precursors to the videophone was the telegraphic image transmitters made by several companies, like the Wirephoto used by Western Union, one of the forerunners of today’s fax machines. This technology was actually based on previous work done in the 19th century. In 1927, AT&T made its first electromechanical television-videophone called the Ikonophone, which ran at 18 frames per second and took up half a room of equipment cabinets. By 1930, AT&T’s two-way television-telephone was made, and the world’s first public videophone service was made possible in 1936, in Germany. The United States wouldn’t see its first public videophone booths until 1964. During that year at the New York World’s Fair, two deaf people signed to each other for the first time using AT&T’s Picturephone, where the phone debuted. The reason it didn’t really take off was because of its expense (US$16 to $27 ($118 to $200 in 2012 dollars) for a three-minute call) and the need for reservation time slots. In 1970, AT&T’s commercial service in Pittsburgh started, for businesses interested in using it, at a lease rate of $160 per month ($947/month in 2012 dollars) for the service, which provided for 30 minutes of videocalling time per month, with extra minutes costing 25 cents each. Even then, color was still not available. AT&T introduced the Videophone 2500 in the early 1990s, bringing color devices to the market. They started out at US$1,500 (approximately $2,480 in current dollars) and later dropping to $1,000 ($1,610 in current dollars). Technology was EXPENSIVE back in those days!

Massive progress has been made in this field post-2000, where now you can videocall one another on your computers, iPads, and phones! And it doesn’t cost you anything other than the download time and a few minutes to install the software on your devices! Broadband Internet access has made the technology feasible to use.

Here are some things to look at:

Video Relay Service – A service where a deaf person contacts the relay service and starts signing with the relay operator via video, who in turn calls the hearing person who doesn’t sign and talks with that person verbally, and then signs back to the deaf person what the hearing person is saying. The call can be initiated in reverse as well.

Video Remote Interpreting – A service that is similar to Video Relay Service, except that both parties are present in person, and the interpreter is available remotely via video (instead of in person, which would be useful in remote locations where interpreters are not available). This can be used at a hospital for communications between a deaf patient and a hearing doctor or staff.

Web cameras and software – Some Apple computers have the iSight camera built in, and you can either use the iChat software or download similar software such as Skype, Google+ Hangout, or Apple Facetime. You can buy a variety of web cameras out there, so to help you get started if you don’t have one, go here – – and here for information on comparison of the programs mentioned –

Smartphones – You want phones that will support at least UMTS to keep the frame rates up over 3G networks. It’s even better to get one that runs over 4G. You’re looking for a model with a front-facing camera and as long a battery life as possible. Several models include the Samsung Galaxy S III 4G LTE, Apple iPhones, and the Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE. You can go to the phone carrier of your choice, and they can help you with your selection. Who you pick for a carrier determines the extent of 4G LTE’s reach. 4G LTE is snappier than 4G in speed. Sprint is one of the last carriers implementing this service and will need some catching up to do, so beware if you live in a small town. Keep in mind, though that Sprint has the unlimited data-only plan (the only company offering this without data caps), which I think is the best for my needs, which means my phone for me is a communications device, and I don’t download things to my computer very much, if at all. Another nice thing about Sprint’s program is that all incoming calls will be blocked. I had to ask for this feature when I first signed up with them over three years ago and was getting the occasional call from somebody. Verizon and AT&T have phased out their data-unlimited programs, resulting in data caps, even for email and Internet data accumulation. If you do a lot of surfing on these plans, watch your accumulations. Unlike Verizon and AT&T, Sprint has its own web site dedicated to plans for the deaf at It is clean and easy to get to. Like we are not an afterthought… – comparison of different plans as of late last year. Find out from the carriers to get the latest information.

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