America Online Inc. on Thursday launched AIM Relay Services, which allow users who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled to connect to a telecommunications relay service and place relay telephone calls right from their Buddy List. The new service works both with any computer or wireless device using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Apple’s iChat software. AOL has established partnerships with relay service providers including MCI’s IP-RELAY.com service and Hands On Video Relay Service.
Telecommunications relay services enable deaf and speech disabled users to communicate with others over a telephone. Normally, the disabled user inputs text using a TTY device attached to their telephone; a Relay Communications Assistant then places the phone call and reads that text to the person on the receiving end, typing their responses back to the disabled user. This new service lets disabled users leverage instant messaging technology to do the same. Users keep the relay service vendor’s screen name in their Buddy List — “MyIPRelay” for IP-RELAY.com or “Hovrsim” for Hands On Video Relay Service — sending a message with the ten-digit phone number they wish to call. What’s more, AIM Relay Services supports American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting through a Webcam, when users are using AIM 5.5 or iChat AV 2.1.