The original Apple FaceTime video always gets me — especially the segment featuring a guy (who kind of looks like Matt Damon) communicating with his girlfriend via sign language.

(For a peek at the new commercials, click here.)

Both my parents are hard of hearing, so speaking to them on the phone has become impossible. But using Skype video (on the computer) has been a tremendous boon for us. I predicted that the potential for FaceTime is truly great for this reason — these users won’t have to be tied down to their desktops or TED devices anymore.

So I was thrilled to see the recent announcement that Apple and AT&T are partnering with a VRS (video relay services) company called ZVRS. They are integrating new software into the iPhone 4 and FaceTime, to offer real-time sign language interpretation.

In other words, this will allow hearing- and speech-impaired users and their hearing contacts to communicate with each other via mobile! This is a tremendous development that has been a long time coming. The ZVRS software coming to the iPhone 4 is called iZ, and it will be released on July 26 — the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This item caught the eye of Amy Cohen Efron, of Deaf World as Eye See It, and Karen Putz, from A Deaf Mom Shares Her World. They both covered the Philadelphia event announcing the news last week, and Putz writes about the crowd of hundreds witnessing the moment audience members were invited to demo the service by making video relay calls live: “It was absolutely amazing to watch each of them communicate via using a cell phone. How many of us have dreamed of that day? The day is here!”

FaceTime To Get Sign Language Translation For Deaf And Hearing Users

It’s not known yet if iZ will work over both 3G and Wifi. (FaceTime is Wifi only for now.) Still, it is a great leap forward to make mobile technology more available and usable for more people.

For too long, accessibility has been an after-thought for the main mobile tech companies, so this news was really heartening to see. While no doubt, the intention is to boost the iPhone 4’s adoption rate in the deaf community, it would be great if this spurs on a greater focus across the board, and inspires other phone makers and carriers to increase their efforts for those challenged by existing technologies.

If hearing, speech or visual accessibility is a big concern to you or a loved one on this platform, please weigh in and let us know what your experience has been like. (And if you’re deaf or hearing-impaired yourself, you may want to check out Deaf World as Eye See It and A Deaf Mom Shares Her World.)

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