Advanced phone technologies for the deaf

Every once in a while customers ask me if I sell a device that would convert their speech into text so they can communicate with their deaf friends and family members. Unfortunately, voice recognition technology is not at a point where it automatically recognizes a person’s voice with 100% accuracy. There are computer applications on the market (such as Dragon Naturally Speaking) that do speech-to-text conversion; however, they require a considerable amount of voice training. From what I understand, certain variables make it hard to transcribe the human voice with accuracy, such as language accents, noise level, and loudness of one’s speech. In more constrained settings where speech is more predictable, voice recognition technology seems to fare a lot better. If you heard one of these automated voice response systems that sound like you’re talking to a live person, you know exactly what I mean.

Superprint 4425Fortunately, when it comes to telephone communication, we seem to be a step further. TTY technology has been on the market for several decades now. It allows a deaf or speech-impaired person to type on a standard TTY keyboard and read the other party’s responses on an LCD screen. If the hearing person does not have a TTY, he or she can go through the Relay Service (by dialing 711 in the USA). Through Voice Carry Over (or VCO for short), a Call Assistant relays the speech to the deaf person by typing what’s being said. If the person is speech impaired instead, he or she will type on their TTY keyboard. The Call Assistant reads what’s being typed to the other party, who responds verbally and directly to the TTY user. This type of call is referred to as Hearing Carry Over (or HCO).  Both services–VCO and HCO–are free and confidential; the caller only pays for the long-distance toll charges. Please check our website for a complete listing of TTY phones.

In the days of its inception into the market, TTY was considered a revolutionary technology that made it possible for deaf people to communicate using a regular telephone line. Well, things have changed. TTY is now considered old-fashioned by some and it’s gradually being replaced with newer technologies such as smartphone text messaging and captioned telephones. Text messaging and smartphones are pretty much straightforward so I won’t address them here. Captioned telephones are relatively new and unknown to many people.

CapTel 840iA caption telephone displays captions of the phone conversation on a large, easy-to-ready screen. The user of the caption phone reads the message and talks back to the caller. Compared to TTY, call captioning technology presents some advantages. For one thing, the deaf person can direct dial from their caption phone without a need to go through Voice Relay. The call automatically routes to a captioning center that transcribes their voice using voice recognition technology. Now you ask me, “How is this possible if voice recognition is not 100% accurate?” Here’s the catch: A captioning professional who’s been trained for the job acts on the background by voicing what they hear. A more advanced type of voice recognition “hears” the voice and converts it into text. A clear advantage of call captioning is that there are hardly any delays in the phone interactions. Plus, the phone costs considerably less than a TTY.

At Assistech we provide cutting-edge technologies for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. We currently offer two captioned telephones, the CapTel 840i and the Clarity Ensemble. They both require a standard phone line and a high-speed Internet connection. For more details please follow these links:

Check out this video to see how telephone captioning works and to hear what some users have to say.

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