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AOL Adds IM Service for Hearing Impaired

Instant messaging is enabling technology and with a move today by America Online, it's accessibility technology as well.

The Internet service provider is unveiling a free service that combines IM and telecommunications relay services to further enable IM communication for the hearing impaired.

"This service will further the value of AOL Instant Messenger and the instant messaging feature within our AOL clients and embedded in wireless devices (within these communities)," Tom Wlodkowski, AOL's director of accessibility, told internetnews.com.

AIM Relay allows AIM users to access telecommunications relay services via their AIM client. Telecommunications relay services (TRS) became a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act, for phone services across the United States.

Essentially TRS enables the hearing or speech impaired to 'relay' their conversations through a TRS operator to facilitate a call by relaying the words of the respective calling parties via voice, sign language or teletype

AIM Relay services routes TRS calls via third-party service providers including MCI's IP-RELAY.COM (screen name -- MyIPRelay) and the Hands On Video Relay Service (screen name -- Hovrsim) to complete the call. Users simply add the services to their "buddy list" and initiate an IM session with the service.

The "buddies" are actually automated bots (attendant) that guide users though the process to the point where a real human takes over and initiates a new IM chat to perform the actual relay.

With a webcam, an AIM user can also place video relay calls and communicate via American Sign Language. Straight text can of course also be used to relay the message, and is enabled across the broad range of wireless devices that support the AIM client as well.

The service is available immediately to AOL, AIM and Apple iChat (versions 2.1+) users as well as users that accessed an embedded version of AIM through wireless devices available on various networks including T-Mobile.



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