New technology lets deaf, hard of hearing make calls in HD

A company called Purple Communications is releasing new mobile phone technology to help people who are deaf or hearing impaired make calls through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

A company called Purple Communications is releasing new technology to help people who are deaf or hearing impaired communicate digitally through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. Purple's new SmartVP system lets users videoconference using an HD television. It also connects to smartphones, tablets, or regular computers.

Chief Technology Officer Tony LaRosa says it could help with paying your credit card bill for instance.

"The customer signs using ASL, and the interpreter then voices to the credit card company, and anything coming back voiced to the interpreter is then signed back to the customer," LaRosa says.

Purple's service works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it goes both ways, so calls can also be placed to a deaf or hard-of-hearing person through an interpreter. There are other companies that do this sort of thing, Sorenson for instance sells video phones and tablets made especially for the deaf. But the technology here is moving forward quickly.

Katie LeClerc, who plays a deaf character on ABC Family's show "Switched at Birth," is working with Purple. She has a condition that causes intermittent hearing impairment.

"I was in highschool and I remember meeting these deaf girls and they had a Sidekick [mobile phone], and I thought, 'Wow, what a great way for a deaf person to be able to communicate'," LeClerc says. "Now I think that the technology is advanced quite a bit, advanced in a way that makes it a lot easier for deaf [people] to stay in contact with each other."

LaRosa says the market for tech-driven solutions for deaf and hard-of-hearing people is growing.

"It really levels the playing field for accessiblity, it is truly equal access," he says.

SmartVP is free to people who can show they are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The project is funded by a long-standing surcharge on regular phone lines.

Clarification: The original article misidentified the platform for Purple Communication's new software. The technology allows users to connect via HD TV. Purple has previously released apps for mobile phones, tablets, and other devices.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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