Telephone Service for Deaf People

by Carolyn Kaberline

Those who are deaf or hearing-impaired can often feel isolated from society. However, through the use of assistive devices such as close-captioned television programs and lights to take the place of doorbells to announce visitors, their world is less restrictive than in the past. Today, several telephone services are also available for the deaf.

Amplified Telephones

Many telephones can be equipped with amplification devices for the hearing impaired.

For those who are legally deaf but have some residual hearing, an amplified phone is a possibility. While amplified phones look like regular phones, they can amplify incoming sounds up to 50 decibels. These phones come in both wireless and corded models and range in price from $30 for those with limited amplification up to $250 for those that offer additional features, such as flashing lights to tell when the receiver is off the hook or there is an incoming call.

Captioned Telephones

Captioned telephones are like any other phone, except for an attached screen that the caller sees during the conversation, much like closed captioned television. Not only is a hearing person able to use these phones, those who are hearing impaired can also read what is said. While captioned phones can cost several hundred dollars, many states provide these telephones to those with hearing impairment free of charge or for very little cost. Some of these phones can also be equipped with amplifying devices. These phones are a good choice for hearing-impaired people with normal speech.

Telephone Typewriters

A telephone typewriter, more commonly referred to as a TTY or TTD (Telephone Device for the Deaf), uses text and not voice to communicate over telephone lines. A TTY looks like an electric typewriter or computer keyboard with a screen for text. A TTY can only obtain information from another TTY with each machine receiving signals from the other much like a fax machine. Some of these can also print and act as answering machines. Most phone companies offer free relay services, so that hearing people can communicate with deaf TTY users or those with a speech disability. Prices for these machines are between $300 and $600 but are often provided by the state for very little or no cost.

Relay Services

Most states provide relay services to help those with hearing or speech impairments communicate with others. Those using a captioned phone or a TTY can access these services by dialing a special number, then typing their message. Specially trained operators then read the typed messages to a hearing person, then type and send the hearing person's message to the TTY or captioned phone user. There is no charge for local calls; long distance calls are billed to the customer's long distance carrier. Charges for the actual relay services are paid for by all phone customers, Federal law requires all public pay phones be accessible to those using relay services.

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