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Web TV for the Deaf Ushers in Growing Trend of Online Tools for Disabled

In a highly-anticipated sign of the times, a new Web-based TV service in Britain is offering programming for the hearing impaired. Find out why sign-language entertainment is finding a home online.

Digital Journal — VeeSee TV recently launched in the UK, airing programs solely in British sign language (BSL). This Web channel was born after founder Susie Grant discovered how network TV barely caters to deaf viewers.

“My original motivation for creating VeeSee was seeing so many talented and gifted deaf people encounter barriers in showing what they were capable of,” Grant told BBC News.

She hopes VeeSee will let deaf filmmakers showcase their work, even if it doesn’t reach the eyes of Hollywood. It’s an opportunity for the deaf to finally let themselves be heard…or watched.

The new channel, part of the ViewTV portal, features four hours of programming, divided into various genres. It will also include a news section that is updated daily. After the service is fully functional, subscribers can interact with each other using webcams, communicating through BSL.

“Allowing deaf people to be able to chat freely in their native sign languages on their own website will be a great bonus for deaf communities all over the world,” Grant said.

Kudos to Grant and ViewTV for seeing the potential in this technology. For too long people with disabilities have been neglected in society, forced to rely on TV captions (and forced to protest when captioning isn’t available). But through the PC, a new world opens for the hearing impaired.

We’ve come a long way from movie captions and power-gloves converting sign language to text (see photo). These days, when wandering online, a deaf person can reap the benefits of forward-thinking Web ideas. For instance, the Lancashire Police Authority’s new website includes a section where individual pages are read out to users. And Microsoft has long praised the PC Interpreter System, software that recognizes a speaker’s words and displays the text on screen.

Online tools can also assist the visually impaired, whether help comes from increasing text size on a site or changing background colours someone might find disorienting. When altruistic ideals meet progress, only good can come from it.

VeeSee TV, and the inevitable copycats it’s bound to inspire, is using Web 2.0 technology for what all innovation should do: make our online time easier, serve a need, change the way we live for the better. The hearing-impaired people in Britain are now enjoying what we all take for granted. But what everyone in North America should be asking is: “Why not us? What’s taking so long?”

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