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As captioned television, relay services, wireless communications, enhanced 911, and other communication technology innovations have become commonplace for deaf and hard of hearing people, the Gallaudet’s Technology Access Program (TAP) works behind the scenes providing research results and technical assistance to the government, industry, and consumers about accessibility of these and new, emerging technologies. The goal of TAP, a research unit of the Department of Communication Studies, is to produce knowledge useful in the quest for equality in communications.

The genesis of TAP began in the early 1980’s, the dawning of the computer age. Dr. Raymond Trybus, the Gallaudet Research Institut’s director at the time, wanted to start a program based on the Office of Technology Assessment, a now-defunct congressional office that analyzed scientific and technical issues and conducted studies on how they could affect certain populations.

“This was around the time that work was being done on speech recognition,” said founder and director, Dr. Judith Harkins, PhD ’84, who retired from the University in 2010. “Ray could see that technology would be important for deaf people in the ’80s and beyond, and Gallaudet had nothing to prepare for it.”

Trybus gave her the opportunity to get the University involved, former president Jerry Lee accepted the proposal, and TAP was born.

Today, TAP, under the direction of Dr. Christian Vogler, still keeps Gallaudet at the forefront of communication accessibility discussions, engaging in a range of activities including public presentations, advising advocacy organizations in lobbying regulatory agencies, and providing expert witnesses in legal proceedings.

For example, TAP staff presented at the National Association of the Deaf conference in Louisville, Ky., last month on video quality in video calls and what can be done to get the best video call experience.

The new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules for Internet captioning also just became effective: Starting on September 30, 2012, new content that is shown on television with captions and posted on the Internet must also be captioned. In addition, starting in 2014, virtually all devices capable of video playback–including mobile phones, tablets, DVD players, Blu-ray Disc players–must support the display of closed captions at a quality comparable to or better than TV.

“TAP played a major advisory role to the consumer advocacy organizations in these proceedings, and the requirements on video playback devices are a major win for us. Just think of how mobile devices are getting established in education and what better captioning can do for us there,” said Vogler.

TAP participated in a recent text-to-911 exhibit at the FCC, demonstrating real-time text technologies, where the parties can see the text character by character as they are typed, which is critical for quick emergency responses. TAP is also involved in a work group under the Emergency Access Advisory Committee that is looking to set up a short-term solution for SMS (short message service)-to-911 access.

“Since about everyone in the younger generations uses texting and SMS for communication with each other,” said Vogler, “it is critical that this mode of conversation can be used for emergency calling, as well.”

And last, but certainly not least and definitely not finally, TAP has worked for many years in the area of hearing aid compatibility, particularly with cell phones, to improve the listening experience for deaf and hard of hearing individuals who either prefer or may need to use spoken communication for some or all of their telephone calls.

Most recently TAP has worked to ensure that new cell phone technologies could be evaluated to determine whether they will cause interfering noise for hearing aid users. Linda Kozma-Spytek is a research audiologist working on these studies, and Dr. Vogler calls her a “world expert” in the field. TAP has also recently provided input to new testing methods for evaluating amplified telephones that will help consumers make more informed decisions when purchasing this type of equipment.

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