Monday, November 23, 2009

Help for Hearing Impaired

You may have seen the commercials on local TV recently offering telephones that display in text form the other end of a phone conversation so that those with profound hearing loss can make and receive phone calls. The ads indicate that the phones can be free. This is only one of several similar offers aimed at older adults and just like the free cell phones and free scooters, the offer is true but the description may be a bit incomplete.

In this case, a company called CapTel markets a hard wired telephone that has a small LCD display. The phone uses the same wires and systems as any wired telephone and requires no additional fees to the telephone company. The phone is purchased from CapTel for about $100. The phone is only half of the required system. In order to display the captions, the incoming caller’s voice needs to be digitized for display on the phone. The CapTel phone does not do this.

What the advertisements don’t tell you is that when someone wants to call you and have their voice displayed on your phone in text, they need to go though a third party. Many states, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky included, have “relay” systems that provide this service. A person calling you dials a 800 number first and then, when prompted, enters your telephone number. The systems connects with your phone and displays the callers voice as text.

In most states, the service is free. It is in the case of our three neighboring states. Some individuals, depending on their income may be eligible for assistance in purchasing the phones as well. Information can be obtained in Ohio at (800) 973-4560 and in Indiana at (317) 334-1413.

This system should not be confused with the TTY services that have been around for years where special equipment on BOTH sides of the line allow two hearing impaired people to “talk” using text only.

The CapTel systems work well but they are not as hassle free as the smiling elderly man on the TV commercial might indicate. You do need to let your friends and relatives know that they need to go though the 800 number if their conversation is to be translated into text. For those with significant hearing loss it is worth looking into.

Next week I will begin the much anticipated, ever-popular two part Holiday Electronic Gizmo Shopping Guide.

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