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AOL, MCI expand service for deaf dialers

A phone number plus instant messaging lets hard-of-hearing users make text-to-voice calls anywhere, on any enabled device.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing users of America Online's Instant Messenger service can now get phone calls wherever they are, AOL and phone carrier MCI announced Monday.

The Ashburn, Va., carrier AOL will launch a service that lets AIM users with hearing disabilities access incoming calls using a local number provided by MCI. Calls to that number can be relayed to any stationary or mobile computing device that uses AIM. The My IP Relay Number service turns any AIM-enabled computing device into a "phone," the companies said.

MCI and the AIM Relay Service already let deaf or hard-of-hearing users make a call by connecting with an MCI relay operator directly from their AIM Buddy List feature on any AIM-enabled computer or wireless device. The service allows a deaf person to send a phone call using IM, which is read to the recipient by an MCI relay operator. The operator then transcribes and IMs the response.

With the new service, deaf users can also receive relay calls via the AIM service by adding the My IP Relay Screen Name to their Buddy Lists and registering for a local telephone number through MCI.

"Working with AOL, we are harnessing the power of IP to enable people with hearing disabilities to make and receive calls while on the go," Steven Johnson, vice president for MCI Enhanced Services, said in a statement.