DEAFNET – The Word’s
Getting Around: Local Implementation
of Telecommunications Networks for Deaf Users
By Teresa Middleton, M.B.A.
Teresa Middleton is a Program Manager in
the Social Sciences Center of SRI International (formerly Stanford
Research Institute). A specialist in technology and social systems, she
has participated in a number of studies involving the use of technology
in education settings. She recently worked on a study investigating the
feasibility of a national information system for the handicapped in The
Netherlands. Ms. Middleton is the project director of the DEAFNET
Dissemination Project, a 2-year study funded by the Special Education
Program office in the U.S. Department of Education.
Middleton obtained her B.Sc. from
Syracuse University and her M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and has
completed computer courses at Stanford University.
The feasibility af DEAFNET, a computer-based telecommunications network for the deaf, has been established.
DEAFNET provides electronic messaging, bulletin board access, and real-time linking capabilities for deaf users, their
hearing friends, businesses, and services. DEAFNET is accessible by both telecommunication devices for the deaf
(TD Ds) and ASCII-based computer terminals. DEAFNET software is designed especially for the deaf user.
Now leaders in deaf communities in major metropolitan areas are working to establish their own self-supporting local
DEAFNETs. Using display terminals, TDDs, and line printers provided IJy the 2-year U.S. Department of Education project, they teach deaf persons about the communication potential of this technology. Support from business
and education is solicited as local groups establish a user base and initiate their systems. Because a future objective is
a nationwide DEAFNET, investment in local systems that will be compatible with each other is encouraged.
The impact of advanced technologies on everyday communication has been considerable in our information-conscious society.
Although we are still urged to "reach out and touch someone," that someone may no longer
be kindly old grandpa, whom we haven’t seen for a while, but may be a
business associate in Oregon we are teleconferencing with, a special
education teacher in Florida who has posted a sample lesson plan on a
electronic bulletin board, or just Hal the Computer, with files to be
retrieved and stored. The telephone has become a key link for
interactions in this information society. Severe limitations, however,
are imposed on the more than two million people in this country whose
hearing loss makes it impossible for them to use the telephone without a
special communications device.
Now DEAFNET offers a way for hearing impaired people, whose
information sources have previously been limited by their available
channels of communication, to interact with and benefit from the new
Figure 1 The DEAFNET
WHAT IS DEAFNET?
First of all, DEAFNET is a concept of a network of deaf
persons who have a special communications need and who can now interact
with each other (and with hearing persons) to share information,
experiences, and learning and to conduct business.
But DEAFNET is also a system. It is a computer-based
telecommunications network accessed by either telecommunications device
for the deaf (TDDs) or standard computer terminals. (See Figure 1.)
Users of the network (a) send, receive, and store electronic messages;
(b) post and read messages on an electronic bulletin board; and (c) link
together in real time to confer or just chat.
One way to think of the electronic mail capabilities
offered by DEAFNET is to think of similar services provided by the
neighborhood post office. With electronic messaging, a user has a
"mailbox" where messages are saved. When new mail comes in, it
must be "picked up" and put in the mailbox. Once in the box,
messages can be scanned (much as one glances at the outside of envelopes
before opening the mail) or read. Each box is private, and its contents
are kept confidential by means of a password chosen by the user. The
password serves as a "key" to the mailbox.
The electronic bulletin board (bboard) is much like
bulletin boards found in libraries, resource centers, classrooms, and
supermarkets. Items of interest can be posted and revised as often as
necessary. Typical DEAFNET boards contain news of local interest,
weather, vacation trips, poetry jokes, and so on. They are open to all
Linking in real time is a special feature of
DEAFNET that many electronic messaging systems do not provide. A user on
the system can check to see who else is on the system and, with TALK
command, can be linked to that person so the two can carry on a
DEAFNET is currently running on the DEC PDP 11/48 at SRI’s
Menlo Park, California, headquarters. Although DEAFNET is now implemented
only on a minicomputer, the new generation of less expensive
microcomputers offers considerable capabilities. We believe that
microcomputers will serve as DEAFNET nodes in the near future.
The preliminary research on DEAFNET has been done. Now the
goal is to give local leaders of deaf communities the encouragement,
information, training, and technical assistance to implement DEAFNET in
the 20 largest metropolitan areas of the United States over the next two
years. So that readers will understand fully what DEAFNET is, and what it
promises for the future, its background and history will be briefly
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Before 1963 deaf people had little access to the telephone
system. That year Robert H. Weitbrecht and James C. Marsters adapted
teletypewriters (TTYs) for use by the deaf. The machine they selected for
adaptation was the Baudot machine, which represents characters with a five
level code. Deaf persons could link together in remote real-time
conversations. At the same time, however, the development of computers was
proceeding, and the standard being set for encoding information between
computers was the American Standard Code for Information Interchange
(ASCII). The provision of low-cost IDs represented a major move forward
for communications by deaf persons, while at the same time it was painting
the deaf user into a communications corner. Messaging from terminal to
computer and from computer to computer used the ASCII standards. Baudot
code was used exclusively by TTYs. Being exclusive can be good, but in
this case it restricted deaf users’ ability to communicate with the rest
of society and denied them access to the growing number of computer-based
In 1978 researchers at SRI, under contract to the U.S.
Department of Education, undertook to design a demonstration system that
would make currently available communication services accessible to the
deaf community. The system was to be implemented with readily available
components and allow remote access to a computer via dial-up lines from
TDDs as well as standard computer terminals. In other words, we were to
overcome the Baudot/ASCII interface problem. The computer would also be
programmed to allow direct communication between two or more terminals and
message generation, transmission, storage, and retrieval.
A major integration effort was necessary to meet the specific
needs of deaf users and the capabilities of their terminals. Hardware had
to be modified to resolve modem and baud rate differences; the interface
between hardware and user programs had to be modified to allow for code
conversion; and software had to be written for use by TDD terminals, which
are limited to a set of only 58 characters (as opposed to an ASCII
terminal, which allows for the printing of 96 characters), and acceptance
of either half duplex transmission (from TDDs) or full-duplex transmission
(from ASCII terminals) by the user. (For more specific technical
information on this effort, see the SRI technical reports listed in the
By the end of the project a tailored system allowing access
by TDD and ASCII terminals was shown to be feasible and to have support
from deaf users. Demonstration systems existed in Washington D.C., and
Menlo Park. Access to each system was available to both five-level TDDs
and seven-level ASCII terminals.
The U.S. Department of Education funded another contract
concurrent with the SRI research. In a demonstration project, the Deaf
Community Center of Framingham, Massachusetts, evaluated the use of
computerized telecommunications for the deaf in Boston. They distributed
50 ASCII terminals among deaf families, clubs, and service organizations
to assess the acceptance of electronic messaging and bulletin boards by
the deaf community. At the end of the project, the Deaf Community Center
board decided to institute this form of DEAFNET as a national network. The
Deaf Communications Institute was formed, and a group of users was
connected to the General Telephone and Electronics Corporation Telemail
system. Using TELENET (a valued-added network), members accessed the Deaf
Communications Institute’s DEAFNET via ASCII terminals to do electronic
messaging, post messages, and read items of interest on special DEAFNET
It is now time for DEAFNET to go public. Working with the
National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and once again supported by the
U.S. Department of Education, our goal is to give local leaders of deaf
communities the encouragement, information, training, and technical
assistance to implement DEAFNET in the 20 largest metropolitan areas over
the next two years. Later, deaf initiators must create and operate
Our objective is to place DEAFNET where it belongs –
in the hands of deaf people at the local level – as quickly as possible.
Our design calls for implementation in ten cities in the first year. To
achieve our objective, we first looked to communities that appeared ready
to accept the concept. Readiness is defined as the existence of a group of
deaf computer enthusiasts in the community, an existing organization with
a strong computer orientation, or even the presence of a computer-wise
leader who is charismatic and powerful enough to be able to sell the
concept to the community.
Figure 2 lists the 20 target metropolitan areas. The next
step is to select a deaf leader from each ready community. These leaders
are people who recognize the potential a DEAFNET network offers as a vital
communication link between deaf persons, between deaf persons and their
hearing family and friends, and between deaf persons and business. The
leaders also know how to realize that potential.
Leaders attend an intensive three-day training program
designed to meet the following goals:
- Familiarize them with the concept of computer
networking and the DEAFNET system housed on an SRI computer.
Make them comfortable with using
computer equipment by which they can teach potential users in their
communities about DEAFNET.
Fully inform them about techniques for
organizing, outreach, finding and using volunteer help, fundraising,
and setting user rates.
*Los Angeles, California
San Diego, California
*San Francisco/Oakland, California
*Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
*St. Louis, Missouri
*Newark, New Jersey
Nassau/Suffolk, New York
*New York, New York
*Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
Figure 2. The 20 target
metropolitan areas for implementation of DEAFNET over the next
two years. (Asterisk indicates that SRI is currently working in
Networking with DEAFNET
Each leader is provided with a mailbox on SRI’s DEAFNET (DNSRI)
and becomes a member of the DNSRI network, which includes people from
the local California deaf community, SRI staff members, agencies for
hearing-impaired persons, rehabilitation and referral agencies, and so
As soon as training is completed, leaders are provided with
the equipment on which they were trained and which they will use to
demonstrate DEAFNET and train others in their communities. The
equipment consists of a Zenith ZT-1 terminal, a Superphone (a terminal
with built-in coupler that allows for either Baudot or ASCII hookup),
and an Epson printer.
With this equipment they are ready to demonstrate (and
train others to demonstrate) the benefits of networking – and the
unique benefits of DEAFNET – to potential users at the local level.
One way they demonstrate and train others is to set up the equipment in
a meeting hall or resource center where interested people can see the
system at work and get comfortable using a remote computer. Would-be
users try out the keyboard, dial up the messaging system, link with
others who are on the computer at the same time, read bulletin boards,
messages, and generally become acquainted with the new technology in an
environment in which they are comfortable.
Another way leaders demonstrate the system to private and
business users is by taking just the Superphone to an individual’s
home or office and dialing up DEAFNET for an individual show-and-tell.
Establishing a local DEAFNET
A critical factor in today’s DEAFNET is that the local
operation must be self-supporting. Demonstrations in the previous
project showed that there is a high degree of interest by deaf persons
in such communication services and that they would be willing to pay for
them. However, before a network is operational, users must be found and
equipment leased or purchased; and people must learn how to operate and
run the system and the organization. Although it is likely that most
communities will be able to start their local DEAFNET with a
microcomputer as a node, there still must be a considerable outlay of
For this reason we have researched possible sources of
funding and have discussed with the leader how funds can be raised.
Leaders are also given detailed guidelines and support on setting user
rates and on using our capabilities of the computer such as accounts
handling, word processing, and label generation to help support costs.
Who will use DEAFNET?
DEAFNET users will be many and varied. Some examples are as
- Any individual, deaf or hearing, can keep in touch with
friends, read news, check on the weather, find out about
vacations, read poetry, swap jokes, or find a good lasagna
recipe on boards.
A resource agency can use a bboard to provide a
listing of assignments for which interpreters are needed and can
receive in its mailbox messages from individuals requesting
interpreter service and from interpreters who want to take on
A school can maintain one or more mailboxes for use
by teachers and students. Use of the boxes, which can be
accessed from home or classroom, will encourage computer
literacy and provide better understanding of telecommunications,
computer file management, networking, and electronic messaging.
Students who are absent one day could check in for homework
assignments – although that capability might decrease DEAFNET’s
A relay service that might normally take TDD calls
and relay them by voice only eight hours a day can maintain a
mailbox to receive nonurgent messages called in any time of the
day or night for later relay.
One way to raise funds is to approach businesses such as
retail merchandising chains or banks to become users of the system. It
can be pointed out that the system can allow people to order items from
a frequently updated electronic catalog or to conduct financial
transactions from their homes. Although the number of deaf persons who
are unable to use the telephone may not seem great from a business
standpoint, the success of a low-cost, easy-to-use network like DEAFNET
would also encourage hearing persons to try the technology.
For this same reason we encourage leaders and others at the
local level not to restrict DEAFNET use to those who have impaired
hearing, but to encourage hearing friends and family members as well as
businesses to use and support the communications network
We believe that the success of DEAFNET will depend on two
factors. First, it must be fully adopted by deaf persons themselves. SRI
serves as the facilitator in the process, but the deaf community must be
the implementer. If deaf persons believe in the benefits of the network,
they can make it happen. A necessary part of the design is that SRI will
provide assistance only until the fall of 1984. After that time local
communities will be on their own.
A second factor for success is that, although purely local
networks can be put into place, deaf people in local communities should
plan nationally. We encourage communities to coordinate system designs
and lease/purchase decisions so that they have compatible systems. We do
not promote such coordination just because a national DEAFNET will, in
the long run, be more cost-effective; there is also a more philosophical
reason. As people generally become more sophisticated technologically,
others will move in to provide such services. With this project, the
deaf community has a chance to move ahead and show the way in an
exciting communications environment. We would not like to see this
Allan, D. S., Craighill, E. J., Oren, S. S., Jackson, C. L., Russell, S. H., Huntley, H. L., & Silson, J. A
Nationwide communication system for the hearing impaired: Strategies toward commercial implementation.
Final report prepared for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Menlo Park, Calif. SRI International, 1981.
Didsbury, H. R, Jr. (Ed.). Communications and the future. Bethesda, Md.: World Future Society, 1982.
Harrenstien, K., Craighill, E. J., Fylstra. D. J., Huntley, H. L., Ross, W. c., & Russell, S. H.
DEAFNET: A distributed communications service for the deaf. Final
report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education. Menlo Park, Calif. SRI International, 1982.
Slotnick, J. Brief history of events in telecommunications for the deaf. DEAFNET dissemination training manual, prepared for training program conducted at
SRI International, 1983.
In preparing this paper, I have received help and support from a number of SRI staff members who have been close to
DEAFNET for many years. They include Earl Craighill, who has been responsible for the overall design of DEAFNET, and who reviewed this paper and offered valuable
support and advice; Ken Harrenstien, himself deaf, who was a key designer of DEAFNET and is the person who knows
most about its inner workings; Hal Huntley, whom most DEAFNET users know as the one who answers all their
questions, and who helped put the user manual together; and Dave Fylstra, a software specialist who conducted the
microcomputer survey for the current project - the illustration used in this paper is based on Dave's original artwork.
ELECTRONIC MAIL FOR THE DEAF: WILL IT WORK?
NETWORKING AND DEAFNESS- -Editors William P. McCrone,
Roger L. Beach, Frank R. Zieziula
Department of Counseling - School of Education and Human Services -
Gallaudet College - Washington, DC 20002
Proceedings of the National Conference American Deafness and
Rehabilitation Association Seattle, Washington
March 17-21, 1982- Published by American Deafness and Rehabilitation
Association 814 Thayer Avenue Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
1983 - MONOGRAPH NO. 9 - ISBN
0-914494-I0-4 C- 1983 AMERICAN
DEAFNESS AND REHABILITATION ASSOCIATION
One of the most frustrating aspects of deafness is the pervasive
sense of dependence surrounding so many communication activities and
functions. There are few artifacts of modern civilization that underscore
this dependence as frustratingly as does the telephone. If one
needs a plumber, a tow truck, a plan reservation, a cab, or a pizza, the
hearing person thinks nothing of his dependence on the people involved
or on the instrument he uses. to summon them. Neither would the deaf
person, if this summoning were possible. But it is not and on every
one of these occasions a hearing person must be found and, somehow,
asked "will you please call for me?", with each such request
the feeling of helplessness and frustration. Few people can afford a
permanent secretary, and it would be a very unusual person who would
always be instantly available to respond to a deaf friend's calling
needs. Although there are service centers where volunteers make calls
in response to teletypewriter (TTY) requests, this does not alter
necessity of such interposition. The deaf person is constantly aware of
this. He is also aware that even the TTY-to-voice centers are sometimes
ill-staffed or too poorly funded to provide adequate support or sufficient
hours of operation.
A deaf person wanting to make use of a telephone is confronted by a
great many stumbling blocks. A hearing person in a telephone-oriented
society may have difficulty fully understanding the psychological effects
of such blocks, but there are some areas of activity, such as
employment, in which the practical consequences are obvious. The primary
reason the telephone offers such an advantage to the hearing worker
in comparison to his deaf counterpart is the vast difference in the
amount of energy required for a hearing person's telephone call compared
to the effort a deaf person must expend on writing a letter or
himself from one place to another in order to communicate. With
pure information becoming a more and more valuable commodity, the deaf
person becomes more and more severely handicapped by his inability to
use the telephone.
Deafness entails a multitude of incompletely understood factors,
and there is no single panacea to be found. However, there is no reason
that the deaf, as well as the hearing, should not benefit from the great
advances in communication that the telephone has spurred. Indeed, it is
singularly appropriate that this benefit be provided by a further
development of the very technology on which the telephone is based,
This paper discusses some investigations we have been conducting
into an efficient, low-cost telephone replacement for the deaf. A
long-term goal of this work funded by the Department of Education and
the Department of Commerce, is to investigate a wide range of
services for the deaf that might be provided through a
nationwide access network. We have been collaborating in this effort
with Gallaudet College in Washington, DC, Telecommunications for the
Deaf, Inc., (TDI), Communications Studies and Planning, Ltd. (CS&P) of
London, England, Deaf Counseling, Advocacy, and Referral Agency (DCARA)
of Oakland, CA., and the Deaf Counseling Center of Framingham, MA.
The key objectives of our studies are to define an affordable, useful,
new communication service for the deaf and to assess the viability
of developing commercial computer-communication, networks to provide
these communication serves to the deaf community on a nationwide basis.
The motivation is to help the deaf overcome the difficulties they
in using the telephone system, radio, and, to a certain extend, TV
in this modern communication-intensive world. In the process of achieving
this goal, the deaf and other handicapped individuals could become
the vanguard of the computer-based communication movement rather than
continuing to lag years behind the technology. The combined service
that we describe (denoted DNAS Deaf Network and Associated Services)
would allow access by existing Baudot/Weitbrecht Telecommunications
devices for the Deaf (TDDs) as well as by ASCII terminals with
bell modems and would provide limited intercommunication between deaf
The more than 40,000 Baudot TDDs used by the deaf today are primitive
devices when compared to the half million ASCII computer terminals
now in general use. Faster and more reliable, the ASCII terminals offer
more features for the money. More important, the ASCII standard is used
almost exclusively in the ever-growing number of computer-communication
Is It The Right Time for Computer-Communication Services?
The Deafnet demonstrations have offered the deaf valuable exposure
to new technologies, while giving researchers fresh understanding of the
deaf user's needs. The research has shown, for instance, that EMS for
the deaf should have features which are also suitable for the broader
market of home consumers. In particular, the system should be easy to
operate and affordable, with charges based more on the services used
rather than time spent on the system.
But the full potential of electronic text services for the deaf
community will not be realized until several transitions are completed.
First, the telecommunications industry itself is not only growing
rapidly but is in the midst of a massive restructuring due to the
Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) deregulation decision in its
second computer inquiry. Although such deregulation may generate new
industry competition and superior products at lower prices, computer
inquiry II probably will bring with it a shift to cost-based pricing of
telephone services. Second, as the telecommunications industry grapples
with internal restructuring, it will, at the same time, be struggling to
penetrate a marketplace that may resist some of its newest products and
services. Finally, as part of this general process of innovation
diffusion, the deaf will be facing still another change that is even
more directly relevant to their immediate concerns: the technological
transition from outmoded Baudot teletypewriters used exclusively by the
hearing impaired to ASCII-standard terminals used in
This transition will not only minimize the cost of serving the
deaf, but will also lead to the fullest market penetration and the
largest overall net social benefit.
The Deafnet experiment, while it has demonstrated technical
falls far short of demonstrating ultimate commercial viability
on a nationwide basis. To be profitable, a product or service must be
low enough in cost to attract customers willing to pay for it. Although
the cost of computer hardware has dropped dramatically in recent years,
telecommunications costs (as seen by both supplier and user) have stayed
relatively constant. For DNAS, we expect some such economies, but not
substantial ones. Whereas communication costs are estimated to be about
33 percent of total costs for serving the urban population, they might
constitute as much as 51 percent of total costs for the rural population,
resulting in an overall figure of 42 percent for a system
reaching all users.
The communication systems the deaf use must be convenient, affordable,
and reliable, with adequate privacy protections. As the present
incompatibility between the Baudot and ASCII standards demonstrates, the
communication system also must be flexible enough to accept or adapt to
technical improvements as engineers and vendors make them available.
A communication system for the deaf must be responsive to its users'
multiple limitations. Specifically, the system must be easy to use with
a minimum amount of training. Because a written "conversation"
two deaf individuals will take significantly longer than its spoken
counterpart, user costs should not be determined solely by time spent on
the system. Indeed, cost is an especially critical factor given the
comparatively limited incomes of many of the hearing impaired.
Computer-communication services are more prevalent in the commercial
sector, where Xerox, IBM, AT&T, and Wang are just a few of the
companies aggressively promoting various components of the "office of
the future." Although effective, such services usually are priced
beyond the means, of most deaf or residential users.
In short, the public at large must become more aware of, and confident
in, the ability of electronic text systems to function as partial
replacements for traditional telephone service, mail delivery, and
publishing. To put it differently, the proponents of
services must acknowledge and solve the problem of innovation
diffusion, the means by which society learns of, and begins to use, a
new product or service.
The technical problems of developing a communication system for the
deaf have, for the most part, been solved. Deafnet demonstrates that
computer communication can provide a wealth of options never before
available to the hearing impaired. While minor hardware and software
adjustments still are necessary, the major problem now facing the
community is ignorance--the deaf must be informed of the new service.
Without that knowledge and support, even the most superb technical
system offered at an affordable price may go unused.
What Should A "Deafnet" Provide?
In general, most Deafnet users interviewed were very enthusiastic
about the system and hoped that it could continue. As the reported
usage data suggest, by far their favorite feature is the electronic
message service. The popularity of this service explains many respondents'
desire that their friends be on Deafnet and that Deafnet be
expanded to more areas of the nation.
A number of users suggested that newsletters and workshops explaining
how to use Deafnet would be helpful. These suggestions reflected
the feeling of many respondents that they did not understand how to use
Deafnet as well as they would have liked, often because they felt the
manual was confusing or because they were unaware of, or felt
with, the on-line instructions. These comments point up the
importance, whatever the service, of simple instructions and ease of
When asked about features that should be added to the system, the
most enthusiasm was expressed for a communication or answering service
of either a voice-text conversion type or a standard message service.
How Much Should Deafnet Cost?
A majority of the respondents said they would be willing to pay the
somewhat higher bills (almost always under $20) that we expect for
similar usage patterns on a commercial nationwide system. It seems
likely that, if the system actually were nationwide and had a large
number of users, its value would be increased considerably beyond what
is perceived at this point, since its practical value as a communication
device would be so much greater.
The recent California legislation and the CPUC implementation program
to have the telephone companies distribute dual-mode TDDs to
certified deaf individuals at no additional cost above the standard
monthly phone charge will generate a large population of ASCII-compatible
terminals for use by the deaf. As this type of legislation spreads
to other states, even more users will become aware of, and skilled in,
new communication capabilities. They will also begin realizing the
(proportionately higher) cost of using direct distance dialing over the
telephone network for terminal communications. This will spawn a group
of users familiar with terminal equipment that demand lower-cost
communication systems. The terminals will be (nearly) compatible with
digital networks and thus can take advantage of them as well as force
the development of better communication services.
Cost is an especially critical factor for the deaf, who often have
low incomes due to their comparatively limited employment opportunities.
Whether one is considering conventional telephone service or the most
sophisticated computer-communication system, cost can be divided into
two elements: (1) the cost of terminal equipment and maintenance and
(2) the cost of transmission services.
Prices for conventional TDDs range from $450 to $750. TDDs can be
leased from the telephone companies at per-monthly rates from $6.68
(Michigan) to $15.30 (Kentucky). Of course, the convenience of leasing
may surrender the choice of TDDs to the telephone company, which may,
unwittingly, frustrate the distribution of new equipment using the ASCII
Although growing steadily since the late 1970s, the market for personal
computers is expected to explode within the next five years. The
anticipation of rapid growth has spawned the development of new businesses
eager to supply housewives, students, and small commercial users
with an array of supportive services ranging from electronic information
retrieval to customized software.
Improved software and processing ability could represent an important
breakthrough for many deaf users who are intimidated by the new
technology or frustrated in its use, given their sometimes poor language
skills. Personal computers are not inexpensive, although a few already
are competitive with conventional TDDs with prices ranging from $399 to
$2,500. The sheer number of models, brands, and prices may intimidate
some potential users. This characteristic, combined with the fact that
retailers will often offer discounts of up to 30 percent for bulk
orders, suggests an important role for leaders in the deaf community: a
computer-communication system may be more successful and economical if
it is introduced simultaneously to a group of deaf users. A group
introduction, however, requires persuasive and organizational skills
which are less likely to be found at a radio shack outlet than at a
church, school or community center with an active program for the
In August, 1981, AT&T filed a revised tariff at the FCC seeking to
reduce interstate rates for speech and hearing-impaired customers.
Normal (maximum) long distance rates of $25-day, $16-evening and a
printer combined with a personal computer would achieve similar
economies for receiving messages. GTE requires that customers spend a
minimum of $500 per month for telemail service; in addition, the company
imposes a $140 monthly subscriber charge. Although $640 may not be
feasible for an individual subscriber, it is economical for groups of
120 or more.
Who Should Promote Deafnet?
Leaders of the deaf community have an opportunity to play a pivotal
role. They could, for instance, fight fiercely to preserve the status
quo, i.e., mandatory leasing of TDDs and rate discounts. However, they
do so at a risk. Computer inquiry II did not spawn the changes now
taking place in the telecommunications industry; rather, the FCC's
recent decision has only accelerated an already well-established trend
toward competition and cost-based pricing a trend which is driven by
Should the deaf community devote its efforts to preserving the
status quo, it may miss important opportunities to influence the
business and policy decisions which will shape an ever-changing
technology. New computer communications hold far more promise for the
deaf than today's telephones and TDDs. However, without participation
from the deaf community, these new technologies may develop in ways that
are not as beneficial to deaf users as they might be. In short, the
deaf community may discover that while it was fighting one battle, it
lost others which were ultimately far more important.
Leaders of the deaf must be educated and quickly. They, in
turn, must reach out in three directions: to deaf telecommunications
users; to the computer-communication industry; and to state and federal
policymakers. Whether one labels this process "innovation
"education" or simple "marketing," its purpose is the
same: to ensure
that members of the deaf community have access to a new technology that
is convenient, affordable and responsive to their communication needs.
The major conclusion we draw is that a service for the deaf must
provide basic communication services akin to the telephone system a
service that is economical, convenient and full integrated. A $5-10 per
month charge for the additional convenience of a computer-based system
is not unreasonable and would likely be paid willingly by deaf users.
If, further, less-expensive long-distance communication could be
provided by such a system, then a per-user average change could be on
the order of $15-20 per month. We estimate that a person typing on a
TTY would take 5-9 times as long as a talking person to convey an
equivalent number of words. At long-distance phone rates, this can give
a deaf user a considerable phone bill each month.
What Is An Acceptable Pricing Policy?
From the supplier point of view, startup and provision of the basic
communication service represent the largest portion of the cost. Thus,
we need to consider carefully whether the consumer can afford this
From a (deaf) user point of view, we need to make a distinction
between 1) economically usable services, 2) urgent services that are not
available now but would be used if available, and 3) "enhanced"
The enhanced class of service can be provided without much
additional cost and so has the potential of contributing primarily to
profit. The key, then, is to define enhanced services that will be
attractive to the deaf community. Representative basic services are
computer-based mail, terminal-linking, and on-line news reports.
Examples of enhanced services are games, entertainment guides, home
delivery of educational courses, and recipe libraries.
Finally, a good evolutionary strategy would be to start by offering
services that the deaf can afford, where the payment is just a
within the family budget. Once subscribers begin using such
services and become familiar with the new skills and concepts, there is
an easy and likely transition to begin using the service for
business, and other activities. This evolution easily leads to a
built-in market for the enhanced services.
The architecture or structure that we recommend is based on "tiered
charges" or cost-based pricing. That is, the user should be able to
select the services he wishes to use and pay only for those services.
This tiered-charge model is distributed and uses regional community
centers. The regional centers can be tailored to match the communication
requirements and available capital (investment potential, income)
of the local community and to provide specific services.
This model makes no restrictions on the type of hardware or software
used to implement the regional centers, but rather requires only
standardized communication procedures. They are of three types:
terminal mode, block mode, and message mode. With this structure, a
wide variety of services and methods of access can be provided.
We have discussed the commercial feasibility of DNAS in terms of
specific costs and revenues for a target population .of users. However,
it should be stressed that these costs and revenues, though they appear
to be appropriate and reasonable, are based on models and assumptions
that bear further investigation before proceeding to build the network.
The goals of the DNAS design are to develop and integrate communication
services that can be used by the deaf on a nationwide basis, meet
the special needs of the deaf, offer services comparable to those received
by the hearing, and become self-sustaining. The plan is based on
an evolutionary architecture, since there are already some pieces of the
system in use now.
The participants in the evolution are:
Users the subscribers who use DNAS for communication. They
consist of the hearing-impaired population, plus families
and acquaintances, churches and schools, and others who can
benefit by using the system.
Providers the entities that provide services to the DNAS
and to subscribers individually, both directly and through
the system. Included are equipment manufacturers,
maintenance contractors, common carriers, information
utilities and distributors, etc.
Policymakers the governmental entities whose intervention
may be required to help the deaf community to obtain
leverage and make its special needs visible.
Catalysts those who expedite the development of DNAS.
Included are government agencies, various sponsors, research
and development organizations, and volunteers.
The technological alternatives for various elements of DNAS can be
stated, with standards shown as the key. A broad range of innovative
services is promised in the market place and it should be DNAS. The
potential of personal computers as home terminals and as the medium for
implementing services is a key ingredient and their strengths and
need to be considered.
In summary, many factors are involved in determining how viable a
commercial Deafnet would be. Costs, revenues, prices and the way in
which the network expands are primary economic determinants. But the
success of DNAS will depend ultimately on the users themselves and on
their own leadership in fostering its growth.