Short Survey Helps HEARD and Deaf Inmates

By BitcoDavid

Modern TTY with acoustic coupler for text-to-speech. Image - Wikipedia
Modern TTY with acoustic coupler for text-to-speech. Image – Wikipedia

The Internet has been a huge boon to the Deaf Community, and it can be leveraged into a great asset for Deaf inmates as well. One major problem facing the Deaf in prison, is access to telecommunications. There are numerous factors that go into this problem. Numbering among them are, time required to place calls, cost of calling out, and availability of useable technology.

About 75 years ago, a system was invented by which the Deaf could use the telephone. That system was known as TTY. TTY stands for Teletypewriter. This is a device with a QWERTY keyboard, and a LED or LCD readout. The system translates voice into text, for the Deaf user to read. The receiver must also have a TTY terminal. TTYs have a separate number, and the Deaf user can only call other TTY machines. The ADA states that TTY phones must be made available to Deaf inmates, and most facilities do have them.

EV World
EV World

The problem is that most modern Deaf, can’t use them. People raised with ASL as a first language, may not be able to read – or read well enough to utilize the machine. Even well educated Deaf – those with a Baccalaureate reading level, or above – are not likely to be familiar with – or to use – these machines. You may be an excellent driver, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to drive a Model “T” Ford.

The analogy is apt. We’ve had generations to become accustomed to automatic transmissions, electric starters, fuel injection and even turn signals. The Model “T” had none of these.  So, a law stating that you are entitled to your own Model “T” will be of little benefit to you.

The modern equivalent of the TTY system, is Video Relay. This system works by utilizing an interpreter to read the Deaf caller’s Sign, and translate it into English for the Hearing receiver. It is slightly slower than normal full duplex communication, due to the time required by the interpreter, but by comparison to TTY, our analogous Model “T” becomes a McLaren Corvette.

If the caller and the receiver both Sign, then Skype and other Internet alternatives would be even better.

OLPC: XO internet access
OLPC: XO internet access. Image – Wikipedia

The problem is that most jails and prison facilities in this country, don’t have VR, and don’t allow Internet access. To the Deaf, this is tantamount to Solitary Confinement. Even if a Deaf inmate can learn to master the clunky, unreliable and inaccurate TTY system, he is charged at the same exploitative rate, as his hearing counterparts. But a TTY call can take up to 10X longer. The cost of such a call, can be staggering.

HEARD has been working for several years now, on getting Corrections Departments to begin using VR, and so has Beyond that, I would like to see Deaf and Hearing inmates alike, allowed limited Internet access. They’ve been doing just that, in Sweden for a decade now, and it has worked out very well. Classes, support groups and even social networks could be established that would greatly benefit inmates, and in so doing, benefit society as a whole. And for the Deaf, it would allow them the same freedom in communication with family and friends, that is afforded the Hearing. It could also be used to take control away from exploitative Telecom companies, and reduce the cost of making or receiving calls, behind bars.

Most people are aware of the high currency value afforded cigarettes, in prison society. But what many do not know, is that phone time holds a similar value. The price gouging Telecoms set this situation in motion. Inmates are commonly victimized – beaten, robbed or even killed – for their phone cards. Free Internet access could change that.

I have included a link below, to a short survey by HEARD. I took it. It only takes about 15 seconds to complete, and the aggregate data will help HEARD in their work with the FCC and other organizations responsible for prison Telecommunications.


I urge you to take this survey, share it on FaceBook, Twitter and other social networks, comment and write to some or all of the organizations listed on the site. We need to address these problems if we’re ever to attain inmate equality.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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