The Possibilities of the Internet for Hearing-Impaired Persons

By Bernd Rehling

Ladies and Gentlemen,

today catchphrases like "digital revolution" are common talk, and the term "Internet" may well be one of the terms most commonly used. Any company, any television station, any club of rabbit breeders and as well any individual feel obliged to prove their cosmopolitan attitudes, dynamics and modern behaviour by presenting their own addresses in the Internet.

In this discourse I shall try to separate myself from these fashionable trends. Sensational news about pornography, political radicals, instructions for the making of bombs, etc. do exist, however, they primarily serve the sales increase of the respective media. And I do not in the least worry about what's "in" or "out". Being a hearing-impaired person myself I am above all interested in one thing: In what way might hearing-impaired persons benefit from the new media that appear in the Internet?

However, before I continue with theoretic discussions, I would like to give you a concrete example. I shall depict for you a quite normal course of a day, as it might be repeated in a similar form every day (as you can see, I am a confirmed teacher of deaf and hearing-impaired pupils, and therefore trimmed to plasticity).

Before I start, I have to explain that I and some friends of mine are operating a web-site for the hearing-impaired, the "Taubenschlag" ('pigeon house' in English) ( To a certain degree, the Taubenschlag determines my day by now, though the activities and the way of communicating are by no means bound to webmaster's work. They will be used in the same way by other hearing--impaired people in the Internet. I shall try to express myself in a generally intelligible way. But it will be inevitable that here and there insider jargon is inserted. I will explain some of it later on and I shall answer your questions at any time. But perhaps you should at first take my depiction like you would take a text in a foreign language of which you normally don't understand each word, but in which, however, from the context some of it becomes clear.

A quite normal day

After getting up I first go to the computer, in order to have it boot while I am taking a shower. That's because I intend to benefit from the early hours when rates are low and when the information superhighway is still a clear road.

I connect to my provider Nordkom and collect the mail - the e-mail of course. Before reading the remaining mail (I daily receive 10 to 20 mails) I take a look at the daily mail from the "Paperboy". I entrusted the paperboy to search the press in the Internet for keywords like "deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, sign language" etc. This service is free of charge and very reliable. Gone are the times when you had to entrust expensive special selecting agencies to examine the press. But since the paperboy works fully automatically post-sorting will be inevitable. The computer of course also lists articles that contain expressions like "his proposal met with deaf ears".

While I am busy checking the Internet adresses of newspapers, Krischi from Philadelphia gets in touch via ICQ. Krischi is Christian Vogler, a deaf man from Hamburg who is currently getting his doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a staff member of the 'Taubenschlag'. Though for him it is already 1 a.m. we will still be able to talk about some things. He gives an enthusiastic report on a football match - which I, not being devoted to sports at all, cannot make much of. However, he also talks about video films he saw, with subtitles of course. And so I learn that since the early 80s the producers of video cassettes are bound by law to provide their cassettes with CC, closed captioning. Lucky America, or lucky hearing-impaired people in America. Apart from unimportant and exotic matters we also exchange very concrete things as far as the design of the Taubenschlag is concerned. And then Krischi notices that on the hompepage of pupils which I uploaded the day before one image does not appear. No problem. Krischi quickly downloads the page, corrects the mistake, and I am already able to contemplate the page with the picture on my computer-screen.

In the meantime "Lovely & Big Smiles" from Australia has turned up. Her real name is Ritsa, she is deaf and has recently become unemployed. All over the world the same problems, and obviously handicapped persons are hit first and, probably, hardest. On a Californian server Rita has found a report on a man who "talks to animals". She rapidly writes the URL (the Internet address) for me, and after a mouse click I am seeing the same page that she is in America. There is a man who for 30 years has been teaching the American sign language ASL to a group of chimpanzees. Well, much is possible on earth. Then "Lovely & Big Smiles" asks me to visit the page of an icehockey club in Seattle, and to put down my name in the visitor's book. She feels that I would make her deaf girl friend happy who is a member of that team. Of course, I immediately do as I am told, and only one day later the icehockey player expresses her thanks to me via e-mail. While I am still occupied with making the entry in the visitor's book of the "Ice Breakers" in Seattle, I forward the URL of the signing chimpanzees to Krischi in Philadelphia. He has not seen them either up to now.

After the morning chat and the "editors' conference" I finally can read my e-mails and answer them. This may take 2 or 3 hours. However, this communication way is still so comfortable that a fax message - by comparison - is felt to be something uncomfortable and medieval. And as for snailmails - they are definitely from the stone age. (snailmail means conventional letters, written on paper or printed, and then forwarded by mail). E-mails do not harm the environment because they don't use paper and don't need any means of transportation. They are made at the computer, sent off via a mouse click, and they often already reach their destination within minutes - all over the world. In urgent cases it may well happen that several times a day mails are racing to and fro between the U.S.A. and Germany. I don't need to write an address, I will just click at "answer". I can attach to the mail any documents, texts, entire exam papers, computer programs, images, sound files, short movies - simply anything, and then send it off. And when it comes to making accessible to others a mail I received, a click at "Forward" will do. In case the entire team of the Taubenschlag or even all the webmasters of all the German websites for the hearing-impaired are to be informed, then the respective group will be chosen as the addressee - and the bulk of letters is ready. Compared to this, even serial letters made by computer seem to be old-fashioned. Concerning the Taubenschlag this will mean that everyone in the team will be informed on any matters per "carbon copy". With conventional means this would mean an unreasonable bureaucratic effort. Via e-mail it's without effort or cost, and it allows for basic-democratic working methods, of which people otherwise could only dream.

But let's go back to my exemplary daily routine. Having done the correspondence I prepare the press notes received by the paperboy, and I upload them to the Taubenschlag. Thus they will be available worldwide at that very moment. From the Berlin organizers of the "Love Parade for the Deaf" I got texts and drawings. This means starting the handicraft work, the scanning, the post-preparation of photographs, the typing, the making of Internet pages etc. This takes up a bit more time, but it's worth the effort since later on I will be able to see in the statistics of the Taubenschlag how many hundreds of visitors have had a look at the site. And from some pupils I hear that they have actually been in Berlin. So by this work I obviously contribute to spread information among the hearing-impaired. But in comparison to other media the Internet offers some decisive advantages:
* It's invincibly fast. Internet sites may show the same topicality as radio or television.
* It's based on the written word, and thus it's accessible even for any hearing-impaired person.
  * It can be reached across all borders. So now my deaf friend in Boston is able to read the magazine "selbstbewußt werden" ('living in a self-confident way'), published in the Taubenschlag, 6 to 8 weeks earlier than before.

In the afternoon I get a fax from a deaf man in southern Germany. He advises me that tonight in television there will be a film on a deaf hotelier in Rome, with subtitles. I immediately place a message in the Taubenschlag, and in addition, I send off via t-online a group message to the Taubenschlag-Quix-club. Minutes later the small receivers on belts or breast pockets of the addressees will beep or vibrate, and then call their attention to the evening broadcast.

Though I spend several hours of the day in front of the computer, I sometimes do other things as well. Tonight there is a report on astrology in 'Quarks & Co' in the WDR3 (German TV station). With my infrared headphones I enjoy the broadcast. It's simply magnificent how the editors had a horoscope made for the mass murderer Haarmann, then sent it to 200 readers of an advertisment and 75% of the receivers recognized themselves in that horoscope - in the horoscope of a mass murderer. But all that happens very fast in television, and evidently it won't be possible to show the entire texts in television. But there is a solution. Of course, 'Quarks&Co' has got a homepage of their own. After the broadcast I go to them, download the entire texts, print them and then I can read, without disturbance and on paper, the complete horoscope of Haarmann - and all the other documents that had been mentioned in the program.

I have another look to see which of my friends are online. Ah, Lars from Hamburg is one of them. He discovers me as well, and he addresses me. Lars is a young deaf man who I know from his school-time. I understand that before long he began a professional training in a vocational training institution. Now he reports that he broke off the training, and that he is unemployed again. But he uses the time for his hobby, and he has made up a new homepage. I have a look at it while we are talking, and I notice that Lars has inserted the stickers saying "Oral only - no thanks", which I had had printed a long time ago, in his homepage. Simply nostalgic, however, it 's still utopia. And I notice that Lars, obviously, has been making small animated images, so-called animated gifs.I ask him whether he feels like making an animated pigeon for the Taubenschlag. He agrees with enthusiasm. The next day I meet him again. He quickly pushes his first draft over to me. We talk about modifications which he wants to start with immediately. Today Lars' animated pigeon decorates the title page of the Taubenschlag. Lars spent days with the fine works, and he has designed it neatly indeed. Now he is in a position to call the attention of all his friends to his work. It is, still, visible all over the world, and it bears his name. That way working in the Internet sometimes has therapeutic effects as well.

Yes, and then there is Ralf who became deaf a year ago, who had undergone the insertion of a CI some weeks ago, and who now enthusiastically reports of having been able now for the first time to hear the voice of his nine-month-old son. At that moment your eyes get wet, even at the computer keyboard. Ralf doubts whether there is any sense in writing a report on his experience for the Taubenschlag because he might be a special case, but I encourage him to do so. Those exceptions are to be found as well in the Taubenschlag, freedom of speech does prevail anyway.

So that's an exemplary daily routine of mine. Perhaps by now you have got the impression that I have to spend my whole life at the computer. This would be an exaggeration, though not completey wrong on the other hand. As for my private life I have to explain that 3 years ago I became an early pensioner, and that in the Taubenschlag I found a "freelance" activity, so to speak. But I have been a "heavy user" even longer, approximately for 7 years. Before that time, however, it was quite the opposite with me. I did not want to do anything with those silly computers. Just leave this occupation to those long-fingered and narrow-minded computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists. Not in my line. I only changed my ways when I became aware of the benefit for hearing-impaired pupils. Originally, this referred to educational programs, then it shifted to the Internet.

Technological development

After these very personal descriptions I shall now turn to the principle and theoretical part. When 20 years ago I changed from a regular school to the hearing-impaired school the TTY (writing telephone) had just been introduced. Being a beginner at that time I did not see the tremendous progress gained for deaf people. They were able to telephone, though only with other TTY users. They no longer had to ask hearing people for help, instead they were able to phone independently. During a traineeship in England I became acquainted with the - still cumbersome, telex-resembling devices they used there, and from America I brought along an American TTY - unfortunately those devices were not compatible. But that way I was able - during the preparation of a class trip to Washington - to get into contact with my deaf partner over there and to solve some important questions. But do not ask for the telephone invoice. One conversation would be around a hundred Deutschmark. So the tremendous technological progress with the TTY showed two painful limitations: On an international level the devices were not compatible, and the telephone fees were many times higher than with usual telephone calls.

The next step was the fax devices. Today they are at least as far spread among the hearing-impaired as TTYs are. Using them is less expensive, they are compatible on a worldwide basis, and you even reach your interlocutor when he or she is not at home. The answer still may be waited for while in case of the writing phone a direct dialogue takes place.

Just take TTY and fax machine, add newspapers, lexica, educational programs, photo cameras, video cameras, stereo equipments etc., stir them well, and you will get the possibilities of the next technological development step, the Internet.

As I intend to explore what is the benefit of the Internet for the hearing-impaired I have to state beforehand what the existing deficits of hearing-impaired persons are. At a home visit the mother of a hearing-impaired pupil said: "My son very often says: "I feel so lonely". And his friend Florian ardently agrees: "So do I." As touching as those authentic statements of children may be - experts are sufficiently aware of the social problems of hearing-impaired people, especially of those who are hard of hearing. This is, after all, the basis of your trade as a pastor for hearing-impaired persons.

The reasons for the social problems of hearing-impaired persons are diverse. Being excluded from the society of normal hearers due to the hearing-impairment, to pecularities of articulation, to limited language competence, to different mentality, to visual orientation, to different fields of interest. From my professional activity as a teacher of hearing-impaired and deaf persons I could quote some examples - which would be quite superfluous in your group.

But let's return to systematics: When it comes to bring to light the compensatory aspects of the Internet we have to clarify the deficits of the hearing-impaired -
* in the area of communication
* in the social area
* in the cognitive area
- general information
- acquisition of knowledge
* in the leisure activities

Compensation of deficits in the communcative area

Basically, communication within the Internet is accessible for the hearing-impaired since it takes place in the form of writing. Though people often speak about the cheap Internet telephony which obviously presupposes an intact hearing, and also about video conferencing which because of the gigantic quantity of data to be transmitted is still at an development stage, the prevailing medium in the Internet, however, is still the written language - and that is why the Internet offers the full integration of hearing-impaired people. It is true that the limited language competence of many deaf and persons who are hard of hearing to a high degree is a barrier, but on the one hand language can only be learnt by using a language, and on the other hand the online and offline computing provide unexpected possibities of acquiring knowledge. More on that later on.

E-mail primarily bases on written language. Critics indicate at the sterility of this medium. They say that it is much nicer to receive a hand-written letter, just with this personal touch of handwriting, on handmade paper, even parfumed if possible, with pressed-on lipstick-mouth and an enclosed pressed flower. Since this argument is on an irrefutable emotional level it cannot be disproved. And in the case of a love letter I would certainly prefer it that way compared to an e-mail. But how often in life do we get such beautiful letters? And how often do we abstain from writing because we do not want to take the effort? As for me: It may be years since I wrote the last letter by hand. And I have long since given away my electrical typewriter. As far as I was concerned, the culture of writing letters was threatened by extinction long before - until e-mails came up. And a look into my e-mail directory shows me that during the past 4 months I sent off 995 mails. Even if the bulk is only passed-on mails - if I had wanted to write them by hand, I would have had to write day and night or to employ a secretary. In short: The medium of e-mail lead to an unprecedented revival of the culture of letter writing.

In the preceding description of the daily routine I already mentioned some of the advantages of writing e-mails. Here they are again in a systematic depiction:
* paperless - thus friendly to the environment
* cheap - since an entire "pile" of e-mails can be dispatched for the price of one telephone unit
* fast -they often reach their destination within minutes
* international - distances will not be a factor
* comfortable
- sender addresses will be taken on by a mouse click
- the passing on of a received e-mail by a mouse click as well
- "serial letters" to groups of addressees
- the filing and keeping of mails in program-internal directories
- full text retrieval for keywords in e-mails and directories.

Even if these functions are out of place and superfluous in case of handwritten love letters - in any other written communication they constitute a fairy-tale relief. Not least for that reason e-mail is conquering business correspondence. And the very finest thing: the hearing-impaired can participate in this development and use them as hearing people do.

If e-mail, analogous to fax, constitutes an asynchronous form of communicaton (I can receive it without being at home), then chat is the parallel to the TTY. Here, simultaneously, dialogical communication takes place between one or more partners. The most common form is the anonymous chat. The participants use pseudonyms (nicknames), they meet at random places (chatrooms) and they hold conversations which are more or less superficial. As a matter of course hearing-impaired people take also part in those conversations. And if it's fun - who will blame someone for pretending another identity, a different sex for example, and for enjoying a flirt?

But here I shall like to focus on the quite straight and frank conversation among friends. Contrary to chatrooms where strangers meet just to pass the time there are programs which make it possible to find acquaintances and friends in the infinite spaces of the Internet. One of those programs is ICQ. It comes from an Israelian software house, and the name is one of the quite popular puns in the English language: ICQ = I seek you. The program shows which of my friends is online at the same time as I am. We may get into contact in different ways. We may exchange small messages. This is done in a ping-pong way, and while the chat partner is still writing I can surf in the WWW. We may, however, also chat in the proper way. Then 2 or more windows will open up in which you can see what the respective partner has written, in realtime, letter by letter, including writing errors and correction. Depending upon the typewriting capabilities of the participants - this communication calls for full attention. A conversation about a specific topic, e.g. sites in the Internet that are of interest to both, will be facilitated by the possibility of dispatching addresses. In that case the interlocutor will only need to press the start button for the received address and he will immediately see the same page as the sender does. And this may be a matter to communicate upon. When they are working on the same project they may of course transfer drafts or working results as well: Just 'push over' a text draft or a drawing. Photographs are popular as well: just transmit a family picture or a photograph from the last holiday to your vis-a-vis. All this will be performed simultaneously, you can give information to the other side: There's a photograph coming - and seconds later it will be there - no matter at which spot of the world. There is no comparison or alternative for this package charge of functionality. It's absolutely new. For example, it enables the Taubenschlag team, the members of which are situated in Bremen, Hanover, Hilgermissen, Luxemburg and Philadelphia, to co-operate
  without any effort. Six members are working on one task, everyone is informed at any time about what the others are doing, the members will help and complement each other, they sometimes meet for online editorial onferences - and still many of them never meet in real life. But that doesn't play a role at all. At this point I shall make a seamless transition to the

Compensation of deficits in the social area

Since hearing-impaired people are a minority, but are frequently living far away from each other, in former decades social isolation of the hearing-impaired was a sad reality. There were even considerations and efforts to found settlements of deaf-mute persons where the deaf would have been among themselves and communicative misery and social isolation - of the individual - would habe been abolished. Until recently there was also the category titled "The home of the deaf is their club" in the newspaper of the German deaf, indicating that even within their parental family deaf children are often excluded from communication. From this the bad sentence: "Even the dachshund is better off in the family than the deaf child."

The most important factors concerning the overcoming of social isolation are, naturally, communication and the geographic distances. As has been explained in the previous section, both factors have ceased to play a role in the Internet. Communication is performed in writing, and the distance does not matter.

Though the degree of my hardness of hearing still enables me to make telephone calls in an easy way, and though I move (almost) normally within the hearing world, I do feel the social blessings of the Internet. Social contacts to former pupils, to colleagues at other schools, to the parents of former pupils, to university lecturers, students, even quite new acquaintances, not least in the team of the Taubenschlag - which I otherwise would not haven been in contact with. How much bigger by far must be the social advantages for those whose capacity of hearing has been damaged much more than mine. The above-mentioned pupil of my wife, who so hard-rendingly complained about his loneliness, has immediately recognized the new dimensions of this medium. As soon as my wife goes to the computer room with her class, Paul starts ICQ and looks who's online. And soon there is a blink on the monitor at my home and I will receive the first of his messages. And when then Krischi in Philadelphia does a 'night-shift' and is accessible, well, then Paul and his class mates are wild with joy and bombard him with questions - looks like the apparently natural isolation of the hearing-impaired has been broken up by the new media.

Naturally this does NOT mean that real human contact shall become superfluous. On the contrary, virtual contacts can easily become real ones. Krischi in the U.S.A. and Jacques in Luxembourg who I got to know in the Internet, visited me during the past Christmas holidays. And the pupils of my wife are already planning when and how they can visit the e-mail friends in Halberstadt.

Compensation of deficits in the cognitive area  - information

Often hearing impaired people are denied the access to quite simple sources of information. For example, the timetable information service of the German railway can be accessed via telephone - thus it is inaccessible for hearing-impaired persons. The Internet provides a very simple and comfortable way to manage this. You will receive detailed information and be able to print them in order to read them again when you're on your way, to find out when and where you have to change. Even the telephone information is easier, more comfortable and cheaper. And it works all over the country, not only with a single telephone directory. Here the hearing-impaired benefit from a service which is not particularly adjusted to hearing-impaired persons, but instead is accessible for anyone because it is based on texts. This includes reference works like the complete "Duden", lexica, dictionaries and the field of electronic commerce, that is buying via the Internet.

I shall now like to concentrate on areas which represent a special offer for the hearing-impaired in the Internet. Today, in the WWW (World Wide Web) there is a variety of websites which can hardly be overlooked, and which addresses hearing-impaired people and hearing people around them. For the sake of simplicity I will use the English term "deaf sites" here, since there isn't a German equivalent as yet.

"Deaf sites" are mostly operated by hearing-impaired persons themselves. Now I have to explain beforehand that the Internet is not only a medium which is open to all users in the sense of visitors. In the same degree it is open for any offerers as well. Any institution, any company, any individual has got the chance to put an offer of their own into the Net. They will just have to apply for a domain (the name, the address in the Internet), so for example "" for your association, and you will already be able to bring your own contents into the Internet. I am in contact with a former hearing-impaired pupil who has in his private sphere got himself a domain - thematically on his hobby, fairground merry-go-rounds - and who is funding it privately as well. He has to pay 1,000 Deutschmark a year for the whole lot. As with any publication, people are subject to law. Invitations for violence, race hatred and criminal offences, insults, defamations, etc. can of course be prosecuted. But apart from that a boundless freedom of press and of speech prevails.

I mention that beforehand in order to make clear that publications in the Internet are by no means institutions in the conventional sense. You can as well find the utmost nonsense in the Internet, and in the Internet it is far more difficult than in printed media to separate the chaff from the wheat. That's the reverse side of the coin. The positive about this is, however, that anyone is given the oppportunity to proclaim his opinion without delay and directly on a worldwide basis. (I here exclude the question who will have a look at all, considering this gigantic abundance.)

Nowadays, many individuals among the hearing-impaired have already set up their personal homepages. A homepage is a form of self-depiction in the Internet. Not everyone is interested to take part in such a public introspection. Still there is one undisputed advantage a homepage offers: You have got a worldwide calling card. If you meet a stranger in the Internet you may get information on this person in his or her homepage. That way the anonymity and sterility of the monitor acquaintance will be broken up.

Institutions like the Deutsche Gehörlosen Bund (German Association of the Deaf), local clubs, student associations like the BHSA or iDeas etc. have meanwhile got themselves homepages of their own. However, none of the associations has got a comprehensive and actual offer.

In Germany, this gap has been filled by two private initiatives: and Hoerbehinderten-info was the first German website for the hearing-impaired. It is operated by Mario Schwarz, a deaf man from Würzburg. It is supported by the German Association for the Promotion of Deaf and Hearing-Impaired Persons. Unfortunately, the operator has opinions that are contrary to the nature of the Internet. (A network consists of links, and it's precisely those links that are generally rejected.) That is why approximately a year ago a group of members of Hoerbehinderten-info decided to leave and to found their own, liberal-minded website, the proper Taubenschlag. Since I am a member of this group, I should like to present the Taubenschlag as an example and a bit more precisely.

The Taubenschlag -

The foundation of the Taubenschlag took place in the late summer of the past year, and it was connected to the Net in December 1997. The original group of 3 members has doubled by now. Our team is a mixture that could hardly be more colourful. As for the hearing status: 2 hearing persons, 3 hearing-impaired and one deaf person. The professions: representatives, business employees, IT experts, doctoral candidate in informatics, teacher of hearing-impaired persons and pastor for deaf people. As you may have noticed, there is no professional journalist. And the domiciles are all over the world: Bremen, Hanover, Hilgermissen, Luxemburg, and Philadelphia. We operate the Taubenschlag privately and with our own funds - as a hobby that is. We attach importance to abstain from advertising and to be fully independent. We do not get any donations. Only our server is being sponsored by a publishing house. All the other costs are privately paid by us - an expensive hobby. The organisational structure is virtually anarchical. The Taubenschlag is not a club, and there is no boss. On a base-democratic level, all decisions are taken by the team. Apart from tiny friction losses, which may happen in any cooperation of humans, this is working in an exemplary manner. Six team members who mostly have never seen each other and who are living scattered all over the world, are working jointly on one project. I am still fascinated by this idea, although it has become part of my everyday life by now.

As for the contents our aims are: to provide information for hearing-impaired persons (and hearing persons in their personal surroundings) to facilitate accessing other German and international deaf sites with links, and last but not least something which an American slogan defines like this: "I support Deaf Awareness". And it is not accidentally that Deaf and Awareness are written with CAPITAL LETTERS. We want to contribute to strengthening the self-confidence of the hearing-impaired and their reputation in the world of hearing people. From the make-up of the team you can take that there aren't any "racist" exclusions. Of course, six men will not have an identical opinion, but speaking up decisively for the rights of the hearing-impaired is indeed the common basis. Nevertheless we propagate the unrestricted freedom of speech. There are associations and even deaf sites that firmly condemn and make a taboo of any deviating opinion. Contrary to this everybody can publish their uncensored opinion. We stick to the saying:

"I think your opinion is completely wrong, but I would give my life four you being allowed to say it in public."

As for the name "Taubenschlag" "nomen est omen" is to be applied. Hearing people often spontaneously laugh since they immediately understand the German pun. (normally it means pigeon house, but as well "strike of the deaf" in the German language). For the hearing-impaired it is indeed more difficult to understand. In the good old fashion of a senior teacher of deaf-mutes I therefore inserted an explanation of the name. However, it is not true that the deaf always strike. We attach at least the same value to the other shade of meaning, the busy air traffic that is, the constant flying in and flying out of visitors.

You may also recognize the tendency of the Taubenschlag by the fact that we closely co-operate with the magazine "selbstbewuBt werden" ("becoming self-confident") and that we offer the entire magazine in the Taubenschlag. Sometimes in a militant manner, this magazine objects strongly against the CI (Cochlear Implant) thus advocating the view of an overwhelming majority of those who were born deaf. But this won't hinder us from publishing positive statements on the CI as well, like for example the above-mentioned report of Ralf who after the operation was for the first time able to hear the voice of his nine-month-old son.

However, we also take the liberty of publishing and denouncing things that would otherwise stand hardly a chance of becoming public. For example we point at blatant cases of defamation of the hearing-impaired in advertising (slogan: "I hear, therefore I am") or at blatant cases of strangling the freedom of the press. In an ironic way we appoint candidates for the "AmO" -the prize for negative services to the hearing-impaired. "AmO", by the way, means "Arsch mit Ohren" (ass with ears). Though we would never give that title to anyone and never defame that person we do appoint candidates for the virtual presentation of the prize. We have also offered a positive prize: The "I love you" -orchid. Unfortunately, there is no candidate for that at the moment. Does this lie in the fact that so many medals, cultural prizes, etc. are being awarded, or are there so few people who did great service to the concerns of the hearing-impaired? Staff members of the Taubenschlag will of course be excluded from the candidacy :-)

The Taubenschlag offers a variety of information. There is a daily update of the press excerpts. Astoninglishy often there are reports on hearing-impaired persons in the press. We provide those articles in a packaged form, chronologically arranged. Foreign articles will be published in their original language. If we consider them very relevant we sometimes take the effort of translating them into German, e.g. in the case of the article series on deaf Mexicans who are kept by their fellow-countrymen as working slaves in the U.S.A. A case, by the way, which was not mentioned in the German press, but which met with burning interest among the German hearing-impaired - and which became only available by the Taubenschlag.

Current events in the world of the hearing-impaired may also be published in the Taubenschlag. We receive inquiries and requests from associations and individuals wanting to put events like a beach-volleyball-tournament, the "Love Parade", the Titanic-exhibition up on the board in the Internet. We always grant those requests with pleasure.

The information offer also includes links to the most actual announcements in the Internet concerning subtitled programs on TV. The "Untertitelwerkstatt Münster" (subtitle producing company) provides a special service for teachers and parents in providing the entire subtitles of films to be broadcast. That way it is possible to prepare the joint watching of a film with the children in terms of texts and contents. A project that is virtually exemplary within media pedagogics. In addition, the subtitle company has made their archives available. Subtitles of older films will be delivered by e-mail. Thinking, for example, of the excellent non-fiction films of the "Sendung mit der Maus" wonderful possibilities can be imagined.

A lot of visitors consider the Taubenschlag an institution that is able to answer with competence any question in the context of hearing-impairment. Since indeed our team consists of professionals we can do so in many a case. But there are of course questions which ask too much of us. We will present those to the public in the division of "Rat&Tat" ("help and advice"), hoping that one of the readers might know an answer.

In part the Taubenschlag resembles a systematic list of Internet addresses from the area of the hearing-impaired. Whoever is looking for contacts to schools, universities, associations, individuals etc. will find various and almost complete lists in the Taubenschlag. Even connections all over the world can be made, either thematically or following a geographical orientation. Those connections will of course potentize if the user comes to further connection lists starting from the Taubenschlag. And that's what has shaped the term of "surfing in the Internet": You may easily slide from one place to another, from Missouri Deaf Bass Anglers via the Deaf Paragliders to the the Deaf Motoring Network, from the deaf in Singapore via those in Sweden to the Australian ones. There are no limits to this surfing-pleasure, and the great number of websites worldwide allows surfing not only for hours - you might well spend some holiday weeks in the Deaf World of the Internet. For this surfing pleasure the Taubenschlag considers itself the dive-board and the signpost.

In the editorial part there is also a large number of categories with offers of their own: reviews of books, tests of educational software, own magazine articles, the magazine "selbstbewußt werden" and also virtual art exhibitions, like for example that of David Ludwig Bloch - a deaf Jewish painter who emigrated to the U.S.A., and who was granted the cultural award of the German Association of the Deaf for his works.

It would exceed the temporal scope of this lecture to present all the offers of the Taubenschlag; one, however, must be mentioned still: the pastor Ronal Ilenborg, himself a member of the Taubenschlag team, takes charge of the category "church". He himself represents the Bremische Gehörlosenseelsorge (Bremen religious care of the deaf), but other Protestant Churches and the umbrella organization DAFEG have also entered the Taubenschlag. And pastor Ilenborg also publishes his parish magazine "Handzettel" in the Taubenschlag - as a parallel to the written version, of course. And there is a special theological titbit you will find in the Taubenschlag: The sermon of Sabine Fries, pastor for the deaf, deaf herself, on occasion of the 2nd German Culture Days of the Deaf in the Dresden Annenkirche on the "Cure of the deaf-mute man". Who hasn't heard or read it so far should make a short surfing-break and rest a while. Even non-Christians may gain a closer look at the problematic nature of deafness, and they will hardly be able to avoid the feeling of a shudder running down their spine.

Compensation of deficits in the cognitive area -knowledge acquisition

It is an open secret and by no means a discrimination that the educational level of the hearing-impaired on an average is considerably lower than that of hearing persons. Searching for compensation possibilities the question arises with any new media whether they could be of help for this purpose.

There is, meanwhile, quite a large number of educational programs. For hearing-impaired persons, however, only few have been conceived. There are websites in the Internet for this educational software for the hearing-impaired (and there are the corresponding links in the Taubenschlag.) Naturally, the question suggests itself in what way educational software for hearing people might be suited for the employment with hearing-impaired people. I therefore tested some selected programs, wrote articles on them and published them in the magazine "hörgeschadigte kinder" (hearing-impaired children) and in the Taubenschlag. On a far broader scale my colleague Mayr from Straubing made tests of educational software, and he compiled them in a gigantic database. This database is available as a printed version. In order to make it accessible to a larger audience it is shown in the Taubenschlag, too.

Educational software usually means commercial products that are run on CD-ROM, diskette or hard disk on the computer in your home. Especially for hearing-impaired persons, however, the question arises whether online-learning is possible as well. Imagine a hearing-impaired pupil could access educational programs both at school and at home, getting into contact at the same time with other pupils and the teacher - as I said, even at home. There is telelearning in the Internet nowadays, but it normally addresses managers and employees with offers on further education. Language courses can be attended online and, of course, correspondence degree universities are accessible online. But there isn't a special offer for the hearing-impaired as yet. A crying shame, given the deficits and needs of the hearing-impaired. In order to clarify my vision - or just call it utopia - I made up the story of Nili, the small hippopotamus, together with a group of students of the Section of Pedagogics for the Hearing-Impaired at the University of Hamburg within the scope of a seminar. Nili results from the students' creativity and was developed within four days of intense work. Nili starts from the fact that frequently hearing-impaired pupils lack the vocabulary needed for understanding texts. The explanations given by the teacher cause dependence. So how could a pupil grasp a text by reading? In a teamwork effort texts were made, pictures drawn at the computer, scanned, explanations and definitions were written, information texts in books were searched, the Internet was worked over for the hippopotamus - and from the gathered results a bundle of Internet pages was compiled. The decisive functionality consists in clicking at unknown words, and in the frame below explanations and images will be presented.

Nili isn't only cute and a considerable seminar paper. Nili is meant to be an stimulatin for further works in this direction. Efficiency control and written contact with the teachers will be quite feasible. The funcionality is not limited to multipe choice forms. There may well be creative answers given by themselves or complete texts entered by the pupils. And do not forget the pedagogical and social aspect in this utopia. Just go to any class of hearing-impaired and only have a look at the seating plan. The semicircle as a manifestation of the teacher centering, and as a result more often than not - dependence. Both for relaxing the working form at school and to educate towards more indenpendence and self-confidence computing and the Internet can make an important contribution.

Compensation of deficits in the social area -organization of leisure time

Visitors in the school of hearing-impaired are always amazed when pupils tell them that they like going to school, that they are glad when after the holidays finally school will start again or that they prefer go to school rather than to stay at home when they are ill. "It's boring at home" they will always answer. For hearing persons absolutely inexplicable and incomprehensible, while the reasons for that are quite simple: contacts to hearing people are difficult or even impossible, and the possibilities in organizing leisure time are limited due to hearing defects and language competence. A colleague, who some years ago went to the opera with his deaf pupils was horrified by those "philistines". For he wanted to acquaint them with culture and organization of leisure time. Here any commentary will be superfluous. Let's stay with the deaf and the possibilities in their leisure time, and let's take an exemplary average deaf person: radio, music CDs and things like that are completey out of question, television will only make sense with subtitles (and those are seldom indeed, and if, they only appear in the stations under public law since there would not be a profit for private stations), theatre play with sign language interpreters are very rare events and still have an experimental status, books will not be read since they can't be understood in terms of language. I remember the telephone call of a desperate mother whose deaf and unemployed son went almost mad at home because of boredom. So what does remain? Basically two things: sports and the deaf club. And in the worst case alcohol or drugs - not a rare phenomenon, it 's rather overrepresented with hearing-impaired persons. So eminent relevance is attributed to a meaningful leisure time and a way out of social isolation.

When chatting in ICQ or even in AOL I always meet the same people; Urmel and Janette are quite obviously searching, and they spend hours in doing that every day. Even if they perhaps won't find the right person and are deeply dissatisfied because of that - they are not alone, and boredom will not arise. They can maintain their contacts which go far beyond the horizons of deaf and sports clubs.

From hearing-impaired pupils I know that - like hearing kids they are enthusiastic players at the computer. Since prejudices are far spread concerning computer games I will only briefly mention the fact that "computer game" is merely a generic term. Nobody would generally claim: Books are bad. There are bad ones, but still there are very good ones - books and computer games. Judging them in a differentiating way and something like the formation of good taste must be regarded as pedagogaial tasks. And since computer games often can be played in a meaningful way, even without sound, they are a really welcome medium for the hearing-impaired.

And now you can combine both, the Internet encounters and the computer games. For example, my friend Krischi reports that from Philadelphia he played "Quake" with two unknown deaf persons from Tennessee and diverse hearing people from all parts of the U.S.A. I do not want to refer to the quality of that game, which was put on the index in Germany, but it remains a fact that people living far away from each other, are able to socially interact, independently from their hearing state. And although with "Quake" hearing does play a role (you can hear opponents approach), in this case the deaf defeated the hearies. When and where would you find such opportunities?

Well, do not believe that I am walking around wearing blinkers, rejoicing the new media without any critism. Certainly there are dangers and disadvantages. Virtual contacts must never have a surrogate function and replace real human contacts. And of course there are many things in life that can't be coped with by keyboard and mouse. But there are enough sceptics and critics so that I do not have to join their chorus.

Another danger is appearing on the horizon. Computing and the use of the Internet are not cheap, the average of the hearing-impaired does not belong to the better-offs. So there is the danger that they are denied the very medium that might bring them great benefit. If, as many observers fear, the information society becomes a two class society, then the hearing-impaired may face the danger of finding themselves in the second one. Sociopolitical aspects may be seen in this fact, and they are of course subject to evaluations. CIs are being paid by the health insurance companies without complaint because to every hearing person the loss of hearing seems to be painful. Will the employment of a computer and the use of the Internet be considered equally important? And a computer does not cost a fraction of a CI operation. I fear that the associations of the hearing-impaired will have to show severe commitment to achieve that goal.


I think that I have made clear that computing and Internet offer unprecedented possibilities for hearing-impaired persons. Until recently nobody would have dared to dream of that. Unfortunately, the possibilities that have been depicted here, have not made their way into the consciousnesses of the professional "attendants" as yet. The image of arts scholars, which educationalists consider themselves to belong to, is still shaped by technophobia and mediaphobia. The statement that one does not have a television at home and that of computing one does not know anything will meet with the spontaneous liking of the other person and it will generate the image of the superior intellectual. I actually heard the sentence "Today I am NOT going into the computer room with the pupils. They ought to learn something real for a change." Another colleague does not weary of stressing again and again that he is NOT a computer freak, he's been doing that for years now.

If we imagine the enormous possibilities of the new media, then those who still do not use them will have to justify their attitude. I even venture to call this an unpardonable sin. It has got nothing to do with "media hype" or "uncritical belief in progress", it's simply about using a tool that can and will improve the living conditions of hearing-impaired persons like no other.

Bernd Rehling
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