Many people with untreated hearing loss may avoid using the telephone or rely on others, often isolating themselves, which can contribute to loneliness, depression and other negative health effects.  Captioned phones can be an excellent tool to help people living with severe to profound hearing loss better communicate with family, friends, and colleagues.  Phone conversations are often difficult for people with hearing loss as they are not able to rely on lip reading and contextual cues to derive meaning from conversations.  Telephones typically do not transmit the full frequency rang of speech, which can present a challenge for anyone whose speech understanding is already compromised.

Captioned telephones can be used in a home or at work and have a built-in screen that displays text captions of the conversation during the call in near-real time.  When a call is made, the captioned phone automatically connects to a Captioned Telephone Service (CTS).  When the other person answers the phone, the caller hears whatever they say just like with a traditional telephone call.  The Captioned Telephone Service uses advanced voice recognition technology and specially trained communications assistants to transcribe everything that is said into captions, which appear almost simultaneously on the phone display.

The Captioned Telephone Service is part of the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS).  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 ensured people with hearing loss had the same access to telephone use as others.  Under the ADA, this service is offered free of charge to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.   People who use captioned telephones do not need to worry about privacy concerns.  Captioned phone service providers are Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulated and have strict obligations for confidentiality for all users.  FCC regulations governing relay services mandate that calls cannot be recorded or stored.  Captioned phones that use an internet connection use encrypted, FCC-regulated transcription that is very secure.

Anyone with a hearing loss that impairs telephone use may be eligible for a captioned phone.  There are a variety of captioned phones available from different providers, including CapTel, CaptionCall, and Clarity Ensemble by Clear Captions.  Many people qualify for special state programs where they can obtain a captioned phone at a reduced rate or for free.  Some captioned telephone providers offer free delivery as well as installation, set-up, and user training at no charge.  In some programs, FCC regulations require a Professional Certification form signed by a hearing care practitioner or other health services professional to receive a free captioned telephone and captioned telephone service.  The form certifies that an individual has a hearing loss and requires Captioned Telephone Service to communicate effectively by telephone.  Your local audiologist can provide you any information you need or answers questions you may have.  If you have a hearing loss, you should seek help from a qualified audiologist to help you get the information and tools you need to get connected in life again.