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New Toys and Tools

New Toys and Tools

By Cheryl Heppner

Editor: Here’s Cheryl’s writeup of Norman Williams’ Toys and Tools workshop at the TDI Conference. If you want to be conversant on the leading edge technology, here’s your article!

Norman Williams is the Senior Research Engineer in the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University. He has an AAS degree from the National Technical Institute of the Deaf in Electro-Mechanical Technology and a BA from Gallaudet University in Computer Science. He has an extensive background in telecommunications used by people who are deaf. He has written various applications and internet-based servers, including the popular TTY software for PCs known as Futura-TTY. He led an ASCII standard effort for interoperability between TTYs with an ASCII option. Most recently he did some software engineering and some hardware research for a video relay service.


A good company made SimulScribe, which has introduced a lot of tools. One is voice-to-text transciption using a speech recognition system. You can use it to translate your voice mail messages to text automatically instead of going through the relay. Or, if you have a voice mail system that can forward e-mails or voice mail messages with attachments and some type of voice file in the text file, it can transcribe those too. It takes about five minutes for the voice messages to be converted to text messages. You could travel with your pager and be able to get those messages. And it’s very, very accurate. It looks just like there is someone listening and typing the messages.

The company is marketing this for hearing people, who might get 15 voice mail messages a day. A hearing person would have to listen to each of the messages one by one, constantly pressing play and writing down the information in the message, which can be very time consuming.

If there’s a situation where you don’t want people to know you have a hearing loss, you could give a phone number to because they might hang up or be reluctant to deal with you and you would miss an opportunity, such as buying or selling a home, Another example is when you are looking for a job. Some people might not call you because they are afraid to use the relay.

It’s also good in the workplace. In many places everyone has a PBX mailbox, and you can use this along with the PBX mailbox to have equal access just like hearing people.

I’ve had a very good experience using it at home. I have voicemail online, and the phone company provides that for me and for my family. I have a hearing family and all of us can access the messages. This technology is really good to help parents monitor the messages that their children are getting.

Sometimes SimulScribe will add notes if something isn’t correct, but most of the time it’s really on target. It’s just an awesome program.

There are two other companies that have similar products. One is called SpinVox and the other is CallWave.

You can find more about SimulScribe at www.simulscribe.com They used to have pricing information on their website, but it’s not there now. It starts with $10 a month for 40 messages. Larger packages are available.

Camfrog Video Chat

Maybe some of you have a webcam that you don’t really use much. But you really can use it. I’m not talking about Video Relay Service, which is a different service. I’m talking about video chat in sign language.

More and more people are using it. It’s available in Windows and Mac, and it’s becoming more and more popular. Video chats aren’t just one on one. You can have a group conference and talk with some of your old friends through video chat. If someone has Windows and another person has Mac and you want to talk to each other, you can do that.

Can you guess which program is most popular for video chat with deaf people? The iChat is usually used for one-to-one communication, but it can be used for group communication too.

Camfrog seems to be the most popular group chat program for deaf people here in the U.S., and for group chats internationally too.

Over 100 deaf people can be involved at the same time in a chat session, and it’s easily done. There are two versions. One is free, and one you pay for. The free version only allows you to chat with one individual at a time. But if you pay to use the software, you can talk with to up to 100 people. The cost is a one-time fee of $50.

There are various chat rooms, and you can go into whatever room you’re interested in. For example, you may just want to talk about sign language or talk with the French Deaf Club. There are a lot of people from different countries, people from Asia, from Europe, from France, of course the U.S. In the U.S. there aren’t many people who use Camfrog, but in other countries it’s much more popular.

You’ll have different pictures on your screen. An icon in of a head with an eye on it means that someone is looking at you. When the eye is at the left, that means that someone is looking at you.

If there is a sign which looks like “house” in the U.S., it means “where are you from?” and you would tell that person where you are from, whether you are from Paris or use some other sign language or French sign language.

And when the person’s waving their hand, they are trying to get your attention, and when you wave that in front of the camera, that helps the other person see you and helps to garner their attention.

Even with many windows of video open, the quality doesn’t go down. It’s very easy to be able to see other people in the room. And these are grass-root users too.

This program works with the Mac and Windows, and there’s no problem with getting through.

You can find it at www.Camfrog.com. Camfrog has a separate business you can use to host a meeting for your clients.

Other Video Chat Software: OoVoo, Sightspeed, Worldvuer

I tested the other three video chat software products. OoVoo is free and was recently released and is a pretty new product with good graphics. You can have up to six people chatting in a private session at one time, so that’s good if you want to have a private group conversation. It’s good for fast PCs, and a Mac version is coming soon.

Sightspeed is free for one-to-one chat, but if you want several people in the same room to chat, you have to purchase the software. It is compatible with the Mac and the PC, and it works well with the firewall.

Worldvuer is supported by Mac. A lot of people using Macs talk to each other, so I tested this. Most of the rooms were empty when I looked at this program, but maybe it will grow in the future. A lot of Deaf people are just promoting Camfrog and they’ve never seen any other program that could handle a chat room full of people who are using sign language.

Someone asked me if I could make my own chat room. Yes, you can make your own chat room. You could buy a server for a small fee, and you can get a moderator that would send and receive. There are several deaf people who do that, and they have to make sure that they have the right room.

OoVoo — http://www.oovoo.com
Sightspeed — http://www.sightspeed.com
WorldVuer — http://www.worldvuer.com

Questions and Answers

Q: I am hard of hearing, and many hard of hearing people could communicate much better if they could speechread in addition to hearing. Could you tell us if these web sites are optimized for video only or do they support audio as well?

A: This product was designed for hearing consumers originally. It does support audio and video capability. I have not seen a hard of hearing room yet. A hard of hearing or audiological one-on-one chat room should work. I think that one could be created.

Q: Can I make an audio recording from a class and send it to SimulScribe to be translated?

A: I imagine that you could, but I’m not sure what the limitations are for length of the audio. I’m not sure if, for example, the web site can support a one-hour file. So I can’t really answer directly.

Q: Where did you graduate from high school?
A: I graduated from California School for the Deaf in Riverside in 1980.

Q: What is your website?
A: The web site is http://tap.gallaudet.edu. I will put my slides at that site.


(c)2007 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org. 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.

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