AOL, MCI Offer Phone Numbers to Deaf with IM

For the first time, normal telephone users will be able to contact a deaf person without TTY terminals thanks to instant messaging. America Online and MCI have joined together to enable people with hearing disabilities to receive incoming calls using their own unique phone number. This improvement is made possible by an expansion of the AIM Relay service that enables deaf users to receive relay calls through AIM.

The AIM Relay Service launched in July 2004 as an accessibility feature for the deaf, hard of hearing and speech disabled that places outbound calls with AIM. To use the service, users can click on a Screen Name that invokes a session with an MCI relay operator who then places calls on the user's behalf and transcribes the conservation from text to voice and vice-versa.

Now, by adding the My IP Relay Screen Name (mviprelay) to their Buddy List and registering for a local telephone number from MCI, users can receive incoming calls as well. Callers who want to connect with a deaf friend, colleague or family member simply call the number, which then connects them to an MCI relay operator who instant messages the recipient. Recipients answer the call by instant messaging back.

Registration for a My IP Relay Number is free of charge at IP-RELAY.com. What's more, the AIM Relay Service is also free of charge for AOL members, as well as AOL Instant Messenger and Apple iChat account holders. An AOL spokesperson told BetaNews that additional charges may apply for users who access the service via wireless devices.

"This innovative new service is a great example of the convergence of IP Communications," said Steven Johnson, vice president MCI Enhanced Services. "Working with AOL, we are harnessing the power of IP to enable people with hearing disabilities to make and receive calls while on the go."

This is not the first push by AOL into IP telephony. The company publicly launched a consumer-oriented voice conferencing service earlier this month called AIM Voice Conferencing Service (AVC). As first reported by BetaNews, the service is a based upon an existing voice conferencing offering from AIM Business Services.

More information on AOL's accessibility policies is available on its Web site.

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