Real Time Text Aims to Improve Internet accdessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

From: The Internet Society Newsletter, July 31, 2008.

The blossoming of multimedia content on the Internet in recent years has revolutionised personal interactions, business communications, and other online services. But for millions of Internet users with sensory disabilities, many of the communication tools remain frustratingly out of their reach.

Arnoud van Wijk, Disability Projects Coordinator for the Internet Society (ISOC), who was born deaf, knows only too well the frustration Internet users with a disability experience from many current Internet services.

“During the past few years, the use of the Internet as a modern replacement for telephony has accelerated,” said Arnoud. “The ability to include more media in calls provides an excellent opportunity to include people with disabilities in online conversational services.
But too often discriminatory voice telephony services are simply recreated.”

With this motivation, Arnoud and other researchers have documented a technique for “real-time text”; combining existing Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards to enable text streaming over Internet Protocol networks. The technique, published in RFC 5194, uses Internet telephony protocols to ensure compatibility with voice, video, and other multimedia services on the Internet. It allows text to be sent and received on a character by character basis, with each character sent and displayed immediately once typed, giving text the same
conversational character as voice communication.

To further progress work in this field, this week sees the launch of the ‘Real-Time Text task force’ (R3TF), an informal forum for engineers, motivated individuals, experts, companies and
organisations. The R3TF has received incubation support from ISOC, as part of its “Enabling Access” initiative, under which ISOC promotes a diverse range of projects aimed at breaking down the barriers to Internet access.

Michael Burks, Chairman, and Cynthia Waddell, Vice Chairman of ISOC’s Disability & Special Needs Chapter, welcome the announcement of the new task force. “Accessibility for persons with disabilities is critical and must be maintained in the coming convergence,” said Ms Waddell, an Accessibility Expert to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who is hard of hearing herself. “But it is worth pointing out that, like many disability projects, this effort has the potential to provide more options and greater usability for all users in many

More information about the R3TF is available on its new web site:

See also the real-time text FAQ at:

Contact Information