Deaf users sound off on Sidekick outage
When the T-Mobile Sidekick started having data problems two weeks ago, it
was a big pain for nearly all of the company’s roughly 800,000 subscribers.
But it became particularly rough for the many deaf people who have been
among the Sidekick’s most loyal fan base.
“It was severely limiting and made me very dependent on others,” Carla
McCraw, a Web designer from San Antonio, Texas, said in an e-mail interview.
“This loss of independence was very stressful on me.”
McCraw said she relies on her Sidekick to manage everyday tasks, from
keeping up with closures at her son’s day care to whether soccer practice
will be rained out.
“It was extremely frustrating, not being able to know, and my mother had to
call the soccer coach and day care, making me feel extremely inadequate,”
she said. “I had to rely on the Internet through (alternative services such
as) Yahoo and Facebook to let my friends know my Sidekick was down.”
The good news, for both deaf and hearing users, is that Microsoft and
T-Mobile appear to be making headway at restoring much of the data that, at
one time, appeared gone permanently.
But even an outage can be a big deal for those that use the Sidekick as
something of a communications lifeline.
“As the outage went on, I became concerned about how my deaf teenage son
would be able to communicate in an emergency,” Jamie Berke, an About.com
guide based in the Washington metro area, said in an e-mail.
“I know he is not the only one,” said Berke, who is also deaf. “The outage
probably meant that thousands of deaf children who depend on their Sidekicks
to communicate with parents were unable to communicate in the event of an
emergency. Plus, I myself, would have been unable to communicate in an
The Sidekick became an early favorite in deaf circles because of its good
keyboard, then-state-of-the-art instant-messaging abilities, and ability to
connect to relay services. T-Mobile improved things further by adding a
data-only option so that deaf users weren’t paying for voice minutes they
Because the Sidekick didn’t evolve as fast as other smartphones, many
users–deaf and hearing alike–moved to the BlackBerry and other devices.
And after their recent experiences, many of the remaining Sidekick users in
the deaf community have said they are considering jumping ship, once their
T-Mobile contracts end.
“I am going to look into Sprint’s BlackBerry, which more and more deaf
people are taking up, and have complimented, and (said) that it is a lot
more reliable,” McCraw said.
Lisa Gault, a deaf Sidekick owner in Katy, Texas, said she in an e-mail
interview that she relies on the Sidekick as a means to stay in touch with
“It’s a way for the school to get a hold of me, if something were to occur
with my son who is (not deaf),” Gault said.
Gault said that even short of an emergency, it is a problem not to get her
e-mail for an extended period.
“It’s annoying, as my friends think I’m ignoring them, when in reality, I
didn’t get the e-mails yet,” Gault said. “It really put the deaf community
at more of a disadvantage–more so than for hearing people, since we’re so
reliant on e-mail (devices) to keep in touch.”