By Jean F. Andrews
Yes, but with great difficulty.
Did you know that some released deaf inmates are banned from cell phone use and the Internet? This is a typical punishment for deaf persons who have committed crimes such as viewing child pornography online even though they may have never solicited a minor online or met a minor through online interaction.
Computer and cell phone technology is a luxury for hearing people. But for deaf persons, computer technology is a necessity for safety and survival as well as for daily communication needs in a world of hearing people who do not know sign language.
As hearing persons, you and I can pick up the cell phone and call our spouses, children, colleagues or doctors or contact an emergency service (911) with a simple voice-call on the telephone. This is not so for deaf persons who cannot hear or speak. Deaf people like do use cell phone technology as we do but instead rely on texting and use of a special online relay operator.
While you and I can also ask any hearing-speaking persons around us for assistance if we need it, this is not so for deaf people. Deafness is a devastating physical condition that isolates deaf people from hearing society because few hearing people know sign language. The Internet has been a miracle for deaf users because it opens the doors to communication in a hearing world and provides access through texting, videoconferencing and online relay operators. With the Internet, they can access signing relay operators who act as go-betweens between the deaf world and the hearing-speaking world. Or they can communicate directly with deaf friends using cell phone or computer Internet videoconferencing.
For deaf people to adapt to every day life, they must use the internet to communicate with family, doctors, offices, make phone calls through an online relay operator who translates their signs into text messages for others, for job searches, for emergency purposes, and so on.
Judges and prosecuting attorneys may not know how the deaf person uses texting and online relay services for their everyday life.
In fact, the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides protection for telephone use for deaf individuals. Because auditory cell phones excludes deaf persons from using them, they are entitled to accommodations such as cell phones for texting and use of the Internet for online relay operators.
Today, there is software available that can be placed on the released deaf criminal offender’s computer or text cell phone that will monitor his or her use of the computer, Internet and cell phone texting.
Deaf persons should not be denied cell phone, texting device and computer use with the Internet. For deaf people, the internet is a necessity, not a luxury as it is for hearing persons.
Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.