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Season's Greetings from Sprint for Nation's Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Get Technology Assist from Sprint

OVERLAND PARK, Kan., Dec. 10 /PRNewswire/ --
Communicating with family and friends during the holidays and year round is easier for the one in ten Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, thanks to assistive technology from Sprint (NYSE:FON, PCS). All the sentiments of the season can be more richly shared through Internet and video technology, bringing those with total or partial hearing loss closer to their loved ones, especially when personal computers are on the gift wish list.

State relay services allow the deaf and hard-of-hearing to communicate readily with the hearing population through an operator intermediary. However, innovative Web-based ways to access others provide a richer communications experience and higher levels of interactivity. For example, conversations can be seen and choreographed for emotional emphasis and impact using home or office computers and common videoconferencing equipment.

Internet calling convenience is available for computer savvy deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Sprint Relay Online(SM) lets users easily customize and complete phone calls via computer links as an alternative to traditional teletext (TTY) devices. A relay call can be made from a computer at home or work; --anywhere an Internet connection exists. Compared with a TTY device, that conversation can be customized for a more personalized communications experience. "With our Internet relay service, a TTY unit is not a necessity for making a relay call," explained Mike Ligas, region vice president, Sprint Relay. "Another advantage is the absence of Internet call toll charges. Customers on the go can connect a laptop to payphones or hotel lines and call online, enjoying their mobility and freedom from additional devices."

Users simply access www.sprintrelayonline through their Internet service provider (ISP). Operator instruction can be given on a call set-up page to ask for a specific person, to type slowly, or select service announcement options, among others. The Web application connects the user with a relay agent who dials and facilitates the intended call. The dialog can be seen as a split computer screen image; one side for the caller text and the other for the operator relay of the called party's response. Call transcripts can be saved or printed. Internet relay calls are highly interactive. Screen text size and color can be specified for both the caller and operator screens. Macro buttons -- GA (go ahead), SK (stop keying) and PLS HOLD -- are part of the application. As a further innovation, American Sign Language (ASL) emotion icons -- or emoticons -- are available to direct the operator's tone of voice and inflection. Currently, seven symbols for a range of feelings help to make live conversation as expressive and realistic as possible. Spanish and French Creole language options are available. Other features include connection status (connecting, disconnected, busy, ready) and male or female operator specification.

The service also accommodates the hard-of-hearing (HOH) who wish to speak for themselves, thanks to a capability called Two-line Voice Carry Over. The user connects with Sprint Relay Online via computer to call his/her standard phone. With three-way calling conference capability, the Internet relay user will then conference in the relay operator and the hearing party. The HOH user speaks directly to the called party while reading the typed responses online generated by the Internet relay operator. Sprint Relay Online service is available 24 hours a day. Users need a computer, phone line connection, Web browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer v4.0 or Netscape Communicator v4.78, and Internet service.

Video calls are the hallmark of an innovative videoconferencing service known as USA VRS ( www.usavrs.com ). This video relay service meets a deaf or hard-of-hearing preference for natural American Sign Language (ASL) use in facilitated conversations with hearing individuals. Video relay service is Web-based and entails either special phone terminals or personal computers with high-speed Internet line connection and Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser. USA VRS supplements traditional telecommunications relay service (TRS) where a deaf or hard-of-hearing caller interfaces with a Video Interpreter to reach a hearing individual, and is ideal for users who prefer to communicate in ASL instead of through a standard teletext terminal (TTY). Callers use ASL to 'converse' with a Video Interpreter via video link, who translates those signs into speech for standard voice users and 'signs' the responses.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supports the use of video relay service. The USA VRS service, accessible anywhere in the U.S. via the Internet, is free to users but requires an inexpensive video camera along with a personal computer and high-speed phone line connection such as DSL, cable modem or ISDN. Users access the service at www.usavrs.com with Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser and Microsoft Netmeeting or other videoconferencing software. Some states may offer free or discounted equipment in their state distribution programs.

Sprint is the nation's leading provider of telecommunications relay services with well over a decade of quality service. The U.S. government, 27 states and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico currently rely on Sprint to operate ten relay centers and offer the power of communications many take for granted to a population that otherwise would experience isolation. Relay services in each state were mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and are paid for by all local phone customers through state fees included on monthly phone bills. Additional information is available at www.sprint.com/relay.

About Sprint

Sprint is a global communications company serving more than 26 million business and residential customers in over 70 countries. With approximately 75,000 employees worldwide and more than $26 billion in annual revenues, Sprint is widely recognized for developing, engineering and deploying state- of-the-art network technologies, including the United States' first nationwide all-digital, fiber-optic network and Sprint's award-winning Tier 1 Internet backbone. Sprint provides local voice and data services in 18 states and operates the largest 100-percent digital, nationwide PCS wireless network in the United States.

All products and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders.

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