What is a Deaf Pager?

Tara Barnett

A deaf pager is a communication device intended for use by people who are hearing impaired or fully deaf. Many deaf people refer to more advanced devices that they use as pagers instead of phones, even though the device may have a function for speech, because they only use these devices for text. While pagers were once only valuable for very short messages, some limited even to numbers, advanced pagers can now communicate large blocks of text, images, or even videos. Rapid long distance communication on the go was once difficult for deaf people, but pagers and other text-sending technologies provide many of the same benefits that cellular phones provide for the hearing.

A smart phone can function as a deaf pager.
A smart phone can function as a deaf pager.

While a deaf person without portable TTY, or a text telephone, might not benefit from an alphanumeric pager, a two-way pager with text capacities is very useful for deaf people. Some of the main problems with this mode of communication, though, are that it is limited to other people with pagers and that it cannot be used to make emergency calls. Actual pagers that are not designed for text messages or other phone use are becoming somewhat uncommon given the improved function of various smart phones.

A deaf pager might have texting capabilities.
A deaf pager might have texting capabilities.

Many deaf people rely on a smart phone as a deaf pager. One major problem with using a phone in this way is that the keyboard may not be sufficiently large to communicate well. For young people, this is not usually a problem, given the degree of technological savvy they usually possess. Older users who are unfamiliar with small keyboards may not fare as well and may choose to use a keyboard that plugs into the phone.

Pagers are important for deaf people not only for communication, but also as alarms and notification services as well. A pager can be used to notify the user that a fire alarm or other emergency device is going off or can be used to provide less essential information, like a reminder to do something. Many parents find that giving a deaf child a pager provides additional peace of mind when the child is away.

One interesting side effect of the popularity of the deaf pager is that it uses a mode of communication that is very popular among hearing communities as well. Text messaging, emails, and text chats are all common and popular communication methods. It is possible that, particularly among young people, the deaf pager may foster stronger friendships and allow for easy contact. As these technologies continue to improve and become more widespread, the world will begin to see the social implications of the deaf pager on deaf communities.

Some people prefer to be referred to as "hearing impaired," as opposed to "deaf."
Some people prefer to be referred to as "hearing impaired," as opposed to "deaf."

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