Deaf and hard of hearing people - how do you make phone calls?
July 5, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Deaf and hard of hearing people - how do you make phone calls? Which service(s) do you recommend?

I am hard of hearing and wear aids in both ears. I hate talking on the phone and I'm completely incapable of it without the aid in my left ear. I also have a speech impairment - most people can understand me, but ESL folks (e.g. call center) have a tough time, and I can never make it past a voice-activated system ("say YES to be connected to ...").

Anyway, today the aid in my left ear is broken or something, and I can't make phone calls to the store I got it from! Ridiculous! They don't even have a website, just a Google listing. So my current approach is to have my husband call and make an appointment for me. This is dumb. Surely there is a way to type words on my computer and have it sent to a hearing person on their phone line, and have their voice come back to me in text format.

So what services should I be looking into? I checked out the website of IP Relay - is that what I want? Have you used them and had good results? I do NOT want anything that is going to automatically transcribe someone's spoken words, a la Google voice or YouTube captioning. I would also prefer to be able to use a computer or smart phone rather than some standalone device.

Special note: I don't speak ASL, though I did discover VRS which seems useful for people who do.
posted by desjardins to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Skype with a good microphone and headset allows enough volume and almost always provide enough clarity on the other end that I find no problems with my high frequency hearing loss (above 2500 Hertz, which is where the consonants live, is pretty much lost).
posted by technocrat at 1:37 PM on July 5, 2011

If you don't own a TTY device of your own, IP Relay is exactly the service you're looking for. It works in exactly the same way, passing through a relay operator. I used to have that job a few years ago, so if you have any questions about the inner workings of Relay, I'll be happy to share.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:37 PM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have a couple friends who work as interpreters for Sorenson VRS. I think your question is not really applicable to the deaf, because in the USA they will be using that sort of thing.

From what I know of watching them work in other interpreting settings, you'd have to be a pretty impressive typist to "speak" at a conversational pace through a text-to-speech service or software.
posted by richyoung at 3:39 PM on July 5, 2011

I've never used IP Relay before (but I sure am going to try it now... thanks for linking it!), but I've found sometimes calling using the Gmail phone is helpful since I can hear better directly through the headphones (I'm mostly deaf in one ear so my headphones have a connector on it which changes it from stereo to mono).

I also try to find on websites if there's some kind of live chat or ability to ask questions/set up appointments via email.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:57 PM on July 5, 2011

2nding WuggieNorple's live chat suggestion. Seems like too few companies provide the option, but if you can find it and need to conduct a business transaction that's a terrific idea.

I work as a telephone captionist for CapTel in Madison. I do voice captioning, which means that if you're a CapTel client I will caption the opposite end of whatever call you make or receive. When a call connects (either inbound or outbound) I hear your caller through a headset. I speak everything I hear into a mic, and computer voice recognition magic translates what I say into words that show up on your CapTel telephone display. We captionists are regularly tested for speed and accuracy. My best recent timing was 215 wpm so yeah, we can hustle to keep you up to speed with your telephone conversation such that you most likely will only ever experience a ~4 sec. delay. WRT not being understood: everybody's got their own telephone style, but I've noticed that some CapTel clients apparently begin their telephone call with some variation of "I have a hearing impairment and will need you to speak slowly and clearly in order for me to understand you" (I never hear client audio so I can't say for sure what's said, and because I am bound by law never to repeat anything I hear I wouldn't be able to tell you anyway), but I often caption variations of "Oh, okay cool. Thanks for mentioning it", and the conversations appear to flow smoothly thereafter, so for whatever that's worth... also, I've captioned people with speech impairments. Many people with hearing impairments have friends/family/coworkers who also have hearing/speech impairment. Sometimes it's difficult to understand the fast talkers but often it's really not a big deal if the speaker just keeps a steady, even, not-too-fast pace.

CapTel provides telephone captioning in both English and Spanish. There are a variety of telephone options, including analog and internet. While I've never gotten a chance to play with one of the CapTel phones myself, I'm pretty sure they also come with amped-up volume to make it easier for CapTel clients to hear incoming audio and the captioning serves as a kind of back-up just in case there's some audio the client doesn't quite catch.

OP, I'm not sure why you say won't consider a call center or automatic transcription. Maybe we have different definitions of what a call center is? Consider checking the CapTel website for more info, or send an email to the customer service department. I love my job, btw. I'll be glad to dig up more information on CapTel if you'd like, and whether or not you pursue a CapTel phone I hope you'll find something that works for you.
posted by mcbeth at 7:03 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, I'm not sure why you say won't consider a call center or automatic transcription.

Here's what I got when Google voice transcribed a voicemail for me: "Hi, it's, Mom. My 20 pounds and right now already. We're going to help. Way to go for dinner." What she really said was "Hi, it's Mom. We're at 27th and Layton already. We're going to El Fuego for dinner." My mom is a native English speaker who clearly enunciates her words. I got the "voicemail" by text message and it took a few messages back and forth before I figured out what the hell she was talking about. Closed captioning on YouTube is similarly horrible. I would never trust an important conversation to automatic transcription.

Re: call center - I was just making the point that many call centers are staffed with people who do not speak English as their first language, and as I have a speech impairment, it's doubly difficult for them to understand me and vice versa. It literally took 5 minutes to spell my (eight letter) last name when I had to call a help desk in Mexico.
posted by desjardins at 7:46 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

My mom has a terrible time using the phone with her hearing aids and just applied for the CTAP program, which provides phones for people with various difficulties through the California Public Utilities Commission. I'm not familiar with all the technical details, but here is a list of the equipment they provide; if you can find what you're looking for it might help you track it down.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:56 PM on July 5, 2011

« Older Free solution for setting remote access between my...   |   Inexpensive Napa Winery That Will Take a Large... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.