AT&T unleashes Real Time IM Relay for the hearing impaired

Joseph L. Flatley
J. Flatley|09.29.09

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AT&T unleashes Real Time IM Relay for the hearing impaired
As our hearing impaired readers are no doubt aware, AT&T has been offering its Instant Messaging Relay service since early this year, allowing folks to use AIM to communicate through an operator over the telephone in a manner similar to TDD devices. Now the company has announced an upgrade to the service that will allow real-time communication between callers. Instead of waiting for the relay operator to input long strings of text, users receive the messages word by word as they're typed. "To hearing users, this may sound like a trivial enhancement," said Claude Stout, Executive Director of TDI. "But for many callers with hearing or speech disabilities, this creates a wireless and online communications experience that is much closer to what hearing people encounter when talking with others on the phone." Except, you know, with more emoticons and LOLs.

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AT&T Premieres Real Time IM Relay for Customers With Hearing and Speech Loss

As Part of its Commitment to Serving Customers with Disabilities, AT&T Is First Provider to Enhance IM Relay Services

DALLAS, Sept. 28 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- For people with hearing and speech loss, communicating with callers who can speak and hear just went real time, thanks to AT&T* and AOL's AIM® instant messaging service. Customers using AT&T IM Relay services now have a new, faster feature at their fingertips: AT&T Real Time IM. AT&T is the first and only provider to offer the new real time feature -- offering more than 31 million people with hearing and speech loss, nationwide, a more immediate way to communicate with standard telephone users.

Users log in to a specialized AIM interface that works with an Internet connection on a PC and on many wireless devices. A specially-trained relay operator reads IMs to hearing callers and types IMs which are displayed -- in real time -- to the end user. The new service is offered at no additional charge to customers who register with AT&T Relay Services.

With the new real time IM feature, instead of waiting for the relay operator to type a full phrase or sentence, IM users can see the text messages they are receiving, word-by-word as they are typed -- making conversations feel more like calls experienced by hearing customers.

"To hearing users, this may sound like a trivial enhancement," said Claude Stout, Executive Director, TDI. "But for many callers with hearing or speech disabilities, this creates a wireless and online communications experience that is much closer to what hearing people encounter when talking with others on the phone. TDI applauds such collaboration between industry players that results in greater functional equivalency for deaf and hard of hearing consumers."

TDI recently honored AT&T with the 2009 James C. Marsters Promotion Award for providing innovative products and services that address the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

To access the service, using an Internet connection and an AIM account, AT&T IM Relay users can IM the phone number they're calling to the screen name "attrelay." AT&T IM Relay customers are assigned a typical 10-digit phone number, like any other wireless or landline customer, that others can use to contact them.

"It's great to see AT&T leading the way as the first IM Relay provider to offer real time services," said Senior Vice President, Global Messaging, David Liu, AOL. "This generates added value for customers who rely on the service to keep them connected with friends, family, and business contacts. And, it means that conversations flow more naturally, and move more quickly for the parties on both sides of the conversation."

Calling Services for People with Hearing and Speech Loss

Launched in early 2009, AT&T IM Relay is one of three calling services offered to customers who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability.
  • AT&T Video Relay Service (VRS), offered since 2003, uses a high speed Internet connection and a web camera or video phone to connect users via a Video Interpreter. This allows users to experience facial expressions and gestures on both ends of the conversation and provides a natural fit for the use of sign language.
  • AT&T TTY Relay Service, offered since 1987, uses a special device that connects to a standard phone line and includes a keyboard and screen to display messages. It relies on a Communication Assistant to connect calls to standard voice users.

"At AT&T, we know that people with disabilities rely on our services to empower them and help them live independently," said Susan A. Johnson, senior vice president, customer information services, AT&T. "Going back as far as Alexander Graham Bell, we have focused on this, and we continue to innovate these specialized services as part of that vast legacy. We care about providing a valuable customer experience, and we hope that the customers using this new service -- and the many others we offer -- know that it's a big part of who we are and what we do as a communications provider."

AT&T's Continued Commitment: Accessible Service to All

The new real time feature is one of a number of AT&T initiatives that address making services available to people with disabilities and senior citizens, for example:
  • AT&T offers wireless solutions for customers with vision disabilities, such as Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier, Braille and large print billing, and free voice dial using 8*.
  • AT&T offers data-only plans for customers who don't need voice services. For qualifying customers calling via landlines, AT&T offers free local directory assistance (dialing 411)*.
  • AT&T operates dedicated customer care centers to assist people with disabilities such as the National Center for Customers with Disabilities for AT&T Mobility and the AT&T Sales and Service Centers for Disability and Aging for AT&T's landline customers. These centers can arrange for an alternate billing format such as Braille or large print and can advise customers with hearing, vision, mobility and/or speech disabilities about equipment, accessories, features and calling plans.
  • AT&T has launched a comprehensive training program to help employees interact more effectively with customers in these communities. More than 183,000 technicians, retail store and customer care representatives will be trained this year.
  • AT&T has activated the AT&T Advisory Panel on Access and Aging (AAPAA), a panel that works to help AT&T better understand the needs of customers. The panel provides advice and counsel to AT&T's subsidiaries, affiliates, leadership, and external industry leaders and advocacy groups regarding the products AT&T offers.

For more information on AT&T Real Time IM Relay, go to, or visit for information on any of AT&T's calling services for customers with disabilities.

For more information on AT&T's commitment to people with disabilities and seniors at our Disability Resources website.
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