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Apple, AT&T partner to assist deaf with iPhone 4 and FaceTime

Apple and AT&T have teamed with ZVRS to bring video relay calling for deaf and hard-of-hearing users via the iPhone 4 and its FaceTime video chat functionality.

Video relay services allow deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people to communicate with hearing people in real-time, via a sign language interpreter. In addition to hardware, ZVRS makes video relay software for both Macs and PCs. And with the help of Apple and AT&T, it will now bring its latest software — dubbed iZ — to the iPhone 4.

ZVRS on Wednesday hosted a private party at the Hard Rock Cafe in Philadelphia, Penn., to announce iZ, which will be released on July 26, 2010 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Further details on the service, including whether it will work over a regular cellular data connection, were not provided. Currently, FaceTime is only available over Wi-Fi.

Amy Cohen Efron of Deaf World as Eye See It wrote about Wednesday's event on her blog. She said that Carl Gustin, former chief marketing officer with Apple from 1988 to 1994 current ZVRS board member, worked with his former company and AT&T to put the plan in motion.

Karen Putz, who writes A Deaf Mom Shares Her World, was also present at this week's event with ZVRS. She said hundreds of people watched as three members of the audience made video relay calls live from the stage.

"It was absolutely amazing to watch each of them communicate via using a cell phone," Putz wrote. "How many of us have dreamed of that day? The day is here!"

Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, former president of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, places a ZVRS call on iPhone 4 Wednesday. Photo courtesy ZVRS.

Apple previously touted the ability of the iPhone 4 and FaceTime to help people who speak through sign language communicate with one another. The company released a commercial in early June which included two people signing to one another via the forward-facing camera found in the iPhone 4.