contact me at

Friday, February 20, 2009

I want a DBC!

"I want a DBC!"

Anyone who is deaf-blind probably already knows what a DBC
is. It's big news on the DB mailing lists where I hang out.
But in case you don't know...
DBC stands for Deaf-Blind Communicator. It is a new
communication device for people who are deaf-blind.
Produced by Humanware, the DBC works with a Braille Note M
power, the company's leading note taker for people who are
The DBC serves three major communication functions:
face-to-face communication, braille TTY, and text messages.
You also get all the usual functions of a Braille Note M
Power: word processing, address book, planner, internet,
email, book reader, and more. The newest version of
software will soon give M Power users access to Google
Instant Messenger.
Today I had the extreme pleasure of receiving a personal
one-on-one demonstration of the DBC. My local Humanware Rep
brought the device to my house. I had an hour to play
around with the machine and try out the different
communication functions. All I can say is, "Wow!"
The M Power is a portable device with a braille display
that allows users to do some basic computer functions. You
can get either a standard qwerty keyboard or a nine key
braille keyboard. Since I can't type in braille mode, I use
a qwerty. I was relieved that the demo model was, indeed, a
qwerty keyboard. That made it possible for me to actually
use the machine on my own.
The second part of the system is called the Deaf-Blind
Phone. It is simply a cell phone. It connects to the M
power using Bluetooth. There are no wires or cables at all,
although you can use a tether to keep the two units
connected if you want. What is nice about this set up is
that you aren't stuck close together in some awkward
position while you try to use the communicator. That is a
problem with other types of communication devices that are
available for the deaf-blind. With the DBC, you can sit
comfortable in any position and easily use the machine in
almost any setting.
The cell phone includes a tiny little key pad and a print
display For face-to-face communication, the sighted person
types on the cell phone and hits enter. The message is then
sent to the M Power for the deaf-blind person to read in
braille. When the sighted person is typing into the cell
phone, the last cell of the braille display jumps around and
kind of vibrates. That tells the deaf-blind person that a
message will be coming through in a minute. I found it
really useful. With other machines, I never know when
someone is typing a message. I have to keep checking and
checking. With the DBC, it's easy to know if someone is
typing to you.
When the last cell stops moving, you simply use the thumb
or arrow keys on the M Power to scroll down and read the
message. The M Power does not scroll automatically. This
is something else I like about the DBC. You can read at
your own pace and go back and forth as needed. You are in
control of the message, not the machine.
After reading the message, the deaf-blind person can either
speak their reply to the sighted person or type on the M
Power keyboard and the message will be displayed on the cell
phone screen. I am vocal so I prefer to speak. But if i'm
talking to someone who is deaf, I could easily type my
I also tried out using the DBC as a braille TTY. This part
does not involve the cell phone at all. You have to plug
the M Power into a telephone land line. Then you either
connect to someone else's TTY or use a relay service. When
you hit enter during a TTY call, it automatically types
"GA." (It's TTY protocol to use GA to tell the other person
you are finished and it's okay to go ahead and type their
Unfortunately we were having trouble. I could connect to
the relay service but my messages were garbled. The relay
operator couldn't read what I was typing. That might have
been our land line or maybe the DSL line. The Humanware Rep
plans to investigate to make sure I'll be able to use the
TTY options when I get my own DBC. Since I haven't been
able to make my own phone calls in eight years, this is very
important to me. Of all the DBC functions, the TTY is the
one I need the most.
The final communications function of the DBC is text
messages. You need to purchase and insert an SIM card into
the cell phone. You start a new conversation just like you
would for the TTY but when asked, you indicate text message
instead of TTY. You type in the number and then the
message. The cell phone will vibrate to tell you the
message is being sent.
I tried this out by sending a text message to the Humanware
Rep. I wrote, "I want to steal this thing from you." But
he didn't get the message. After a little fussing around,
he realized he gave me the wrong number. We tried again
and it worked that time. A little while later I got an
incoming text message from the wrong number I had written to
earlier. A very confused person asked me, "Who are you
trying to chat with?" Well, at least we know it works.
My mother, father and son all tried talking to me on the
DBC. I was typing back to them. It was great! My dad
can't sign so we have no effective way to communicate. I
have a Screen Braille Communicator but neither one of us
likes to use it. The DBC will really help us.
JD, my seven year old son, agreed that the DBC is really
cool. I asked him if he would buy me one. If you are
buying an entire new unit, the DBC costs about $9,000. I
already have a Braille Note M Power so I will only need the
Deaf-Blind Phone and special software. That costs $2,500.
When I told this to JD, he dropped the phone and ran off. I
guess that was a "no."
But that's okay. My state Vocational Rehabilitation
counselor has already agreed to purchase the DBC for me.
The Humanware Rep will get started on processing the order.
I can't wait. I got to have a DBC!

No comments:

Post a Comment