Man. This really gets my goat.

I have always had an interest in accessibility of technology by people who are differently abled, but i usually concentrated on seniors and children. It never occurred to me the challenges that a deaf person would have interacting with mobile phones and all that (I mean - i was aware that such challenges existed, i just never interacted directly with someone who had experience). About 6-8 months ago i met this guy Brendan at a conference. He had a sidekick, was deaf and was talking the shit out of some peeps on the sidekick. He showed me how he used an IPrelay to talk to peeps on phones. It was neat, impressive and probably an unexpected side effect of having such a message centric device.

We talked a bunch about how the sidekick + iprelay is awesome. And eventually we talked about the upcoming iphone release. He was super excited - because apple has been so friendly to the Deaf Community, and the promises of a messaging centric Apple handheld telecommunications device was quite alluring. The deaf community was abuzz with talk about the upcoming phone and whether or not it would break the reign of the sidekick as being the best device for deaf folks.

There was quite a bit of hype, talk, and various posts on about the iphone. This is where i started to pay attention. It was obvious that the deaf community was dealing with a different beast. Apple had closed the iphone - pretty much making it lamer than it had to be. They didn’t ship with a lot of the functionality that could have made it a dream machine for the deaf community. But people like Brenden kept at it - not giving up and dealing with the nuances of having an always on the web device.

One of the things i discovered while talking about all this nonesense is that the carriers usually offer a plan that is data/messaging centric with very little concentration on a voice for their deaf consumers. This seemed awesome. But AT&T didn’t offer such a plan for the iphone. And now they are officially saying that they don’t plan on ever offering one. You can read more about this over at TUAW.

It seemed that their reasoning was that “it wasn’t fair to the non deaf community.” How annoying. The Deaf users of the iPhone have to pay for a number of unused voice minutes that they probably won’t use just to get the messaging platform they need. AT&T seems to think that the people who are using this data only plan are not the Deaf community members, but randoms who just want to use it as a internet device.

Well, shouldn’t this tell AT&T something? I mean - instead of alienating a group of people who just want to use the iphone as it was meant to be used: a communicator - shouldn’t AT&T realize (like tmobile did with the sidekick) that the iphone is more than a phone and that people WANT to use it however they want?

It just kills me when i hear stuff like this. AT&T is at the top of the market. But i hope that moves like this reverberate through their consumers and drop them a bit. Especially with Verizon opening it’s network and Google’s Andriod - maybe consumers (and consumers with different needs) will be able to get a device which suits them and doesn’t cost them more than it should.