Digital Deaf Life: The Importance of Technology in the Deaf Community
Jan 21, 2015
The introduction of information and communication technologies (ICT) has revolutionized the lives of people all over the world - we communicate quickly and seamlessly across the world and across time zones, we can see our relatives on video chat whether they live in here Argentina or in Angola, and innovations such as mobile banking have given people access to finance in completely new ways.
I do, however, dare to say that for the deaf community, technology has been even more groundbreaking than in the general population, especially in the developing world. In Argentina, technology has revolutionized the way deaf people stay in touch, and we use technology at all levels in our organization, Canales Asociación Civil. Here are some examples:
Before cell phones were common, hearing people would call each other on land lines to make plans or simply to chat. Deaf people, however, either needed a hearing friend or family member to interpret, or in a few countries, video relay phones. For most of the 20th century, deaf people would gather in deaf clubs and most information would be shared there. Many deaf people would go the deaf clubs on weekends, and have few ways of contacting deaf friends during the week. With the arrival of cell phones and text messaging, all of a sudden deaf people had an easy way of communicating instantly in real time.
The arrival of video chats such as Skype, and the consequent introduction of smartphones, brought even more changes: Now deaf people could chat with their friends and family members in their natural language, sign language, at a very low cost. First, at cyber cafes or at home, and then, on the road, anywhere, through the use of smartphones. Many deaf people have humorous anecdotes about video chatting on the bus and the other passengers wondering why they are signing to the little screen!
In addition to empowering the deaf community, these inventions have also made it much easier for deaf and hearing people to be in touch: Whatsapp, sms, and other tools give us streamlined communication and allow deaf people to contact the police, their doctor's office, serve their clients, send a reminder to a colleague, or contract a service.
In my previous post, I wrote about our project connecting deaf grandmothers and deaf schoolchildren. I think it is the perfect example of technology empowering deaf people - both the deaf women and the children are using technology to organize the project, stay in touch, and to share stories across generations. One of the women is acting as the project organizer for Canales and one of her tasks is to convene the other grandmothers: she is using Whatsapp and sms to arrange the meetings and together with the other project members she sends little videos explaining the process and the next steps. After the stories are filmed, they will be shared on an interactive website. This inter-generational project is using technology from start to finish, and by people of all ages.
Here in Argentina, the deaf clubs are still alive and well, but now deaf people have access to a whole host of other communication tools as well. And that is a wonderful thing.