For deaf individuals or for those with significant hearing loss, cell phones can still be a great way of staying in touch. By selecting hearing aid compatible cell phones, those with a mild to moderate hearing loss can often make use of these handy communication devices especially when a neckloop, amplifier, or an induction coupler known as Hatis is added. For deaf individuals or those with a more severe hearing loss, the ability to use text messaging features is critical and the use of voice calling frustrating or useless. In such instances, paying for costly voice plans makes no sense when the individual can only make use of the data features.
Fortunately, some of the major US cellular providers now offer data only plans that can be purchased without any voice plan required. T-Mobile offers the Sidekick Data Plan which offers unlimited e-mails, messaging, web surfing, and instant messaging for only .99/month. AIM comes installed on the phone and users can download Yahoo!Messenger. Users can also sync up to three of their POP3 e-mail accounts to their cell phone and they receive a free tmail.com account with 6MB of storage. Voice calls, if needed, would be charged at 20 cents/minute.
AT&T offers the Text Accessibility Plan (TAP) for iPhone. This plan includes unlimited SMS messages, unlimited data usage (e-mail and web) as well as visual voice mail for /month. Any voice calls would be charged at 40 cents/minute. The AT&T site indicates that potential users need to complete a Disability Certification form, sign up for regular iPhone activation via iTunes, and then contact AT&Ts National Center for Customers with Disabilities to change their service to the TAP plan for iPhone. Availability is sparse in Alaska as well as parts of the western US.
Sprint provides the Sprint Relay Data Plan. This .99/month plan provides unlimited e-mail, internet access, instant messaging, domestic text messaging (SMS), and unlimited Phone as Modem. Incoming and outgoing calls are blocked to avoid any unwanted expenses. This block can be removed by the user and voice calls would then be charged 20 cents/minute for local calls and 40 cents/minute for long distance. Users can get this plan only via the Sprintrelaystore.com site.
US Cellular offers a number of data only plans. They have a "Standard Wireless" plan for .95/month which provides unlimited text messaging and, if needed, voice calls for 25 cents/minute within area and 69 cents/minute when roaming. For those interested in a plan without a contract or any credit checks, they also offer a Prepaid Plan. This .95/month plan also gives users unlimited text messaging but any voice calls are charged at 50 cents/minute in area and 69 cents when roaming.
For those wanting additional data services, US Cellular offers the Blackberry Plan which provides unlimited texting messaging for .95 and e-mail and web service for an additional .95/month. Any voice calls are charged at 99 cents/minute. Users get not only text messaging but Yahoo!Messenger, GoogleTalk Messenger, and Blackberry Messenger as well as the ability to link up to 10 personal POP3 e-mail accounts. The final offering is their Windows Mobile plan which provides unlimited text messaging for .95/month and Windows Mobile e-mail and web for an additional .95. Users get the Microsoft OS with Internet Explorer web browsing, MSN Instant Messenger and the ability to link up to 8 messaging and e-mail accounts.
Data only plans make sense and certainly there are at least a handful of options available; making cellular based communication a more affordable option for the deaf and hearing impaired.