Captioned telephony bites the dust

30 11 2007

I received this letter today.

November 30, 2007

To: Captioning Services Customers

From: Christopher Jones, Managing Director

Dear Customer,

For over seventeen years, Teletec has brought the cutting edge in text communication technologies to people with hearing loss in the UK. Over the past six years, Teletec has introduced exciting new captioning technologies that have the power to revolutionize the way deaf and hard of hearing people communicate over the telephone and communication support for 0ne-to-one, group meetings, seminars and lectures. These technologies offer the promise of far more functional equivalent access to the telephone, the lecture theatre, GPs, and all of the communications that are so important in today’s world.

However, with the advent of the Internet, SMS, e-mail, and wireless text devices of every sort, the traditional text-telephone is no longer the primary means of communication for the deaf community. The main financial support for Teletec has always been the sale of text phones and, unfortunately, the sales of text phones have declined precipitously over recent years. Without the support of the text phone sales and due to the lack of universally available funding mechanisms for captioning services, maintaining the Teletec office is no longer fiscally possible.

Even worse, we have just learned today that the organisation that was to continue the captioning services from 1 December onwards has told us that they are suddenly unable to do so. This was a great shock and disappointment to us. I apologise for the terribly short notice but we were quite convinced that the captioning services would be sustained without a break. It is with great regret that I must inform you that the captioning services including Instant/Personal Captioning service, Captel, and Web-Captel service will not be available as of the close of business today, November 30, 2007. We are earnestly and vigorously pursuing alternatives but there will have to be a break until we can find another captioning services provider. Please continue to check the web site http://www.webcaptel.co.uk for updates.

Without a universal funding method for these kinds of services, small companies will continue to have overwhelming economic challenges in attempting to offer them. Ours is not the first nor the only alternative relay service company to have to shut its doors this year. Already three other (BDA, CSD, and RNID) small organizations started to offer alternative relay services as Video Relay Service for sign language users in the UK and have had to close up due to the lack of a reliable central funding mechanism.

With regards to a 24 hour 365 day a year CapTel Relay Service at no extra cost to the user other than the cost of a standard telephone call, if services like Captel, WebCaptel and IC/PC are to survive and be available long term, they need the help of everyone who is impacted by their loss. There are advocates who are already engaged in working with OFCOM and other official government channels including the European Commission to try and get a universal fund established to support alternative relay services like Captel and WebCaptel. To ensure that these services will always be available, please contact Damian Barry, CEO, Hearing Concern damian.barry@hearingconcern.org.uk , and give him your support. He and Hearing Concern need your help to make certain that this kind of service shut down never happens again and that these useful, more functionally equivalent alternative relay services are available to all who need and depend upon them.

Thank you for your patronage. It has been a pleasure and a great privilege to have been able to serve you.

Sincerely,
Christopher Jones
Managing Director, Teletec International Ltd.

You may contact me at:
christopher@teletec.co.uk

I am stunned for the second time today. Now I can’t use my phone at work! The captioning service has been pulled and now I have a phone on my desk which has the technology to give me captions for my phone calls, but I can’t get captions. Oh lovely.

What is Captel? This is a captioned telephony service which is ideal for people with a hearing loss. Captel works like any other telephone with one important addition: it displays every word the caller says throughout the conversation on a phone or computer screen. This was a fantastic service and it enabled me to be as professional as my hearing colleagues, as callers would not realise I am deaf and would afford me the same respect as to a hearing colleague. Phoning hearing people is a completely different experience with Typetalk

– Hello, this is RNID Typetalk, have you used our service before?

– No and I don’t want double glazing (hangs up)

Hmmm yes, how professional. I can just see myself trying to liaise with Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Barclays etc and be taken seriously when they get the Typetalk drill!

In the USA, Captel (not WebCaptel) is a 24 hour a day / 365 days a year service which is free to users, subsidised by a central telephony fund which is funded by all phone bill payers contributing a very small percentage of their phone bill to this fund. I fail to see why Ofcom won’t agree to a similar system in the UK and why we can’t have a captioned telephony service when I pay £1 a minute for the privilege of being deaf!

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5 responses

1 12 2007
Tony Barlow

Although I don’t use the service but that is a damn shame for a company trying to make a difference for a block of Deaf people with different communication ability. I thought it was an innovative setup, by UK standards, which can go alongside the fledging VRS service and the incumbent Typetalk service as communications provisions for deaf people in general. I hope TalkbyText won’t wind up the same fashion as WebCaptel did as I am considering getting a Nokia E90 due to becoming a mobile worker.

2 12 2007
JGJones

I’ve seen this in action at a TAG meeting. It did look good and I would have made use of it if my job required it. I could see the huge potential this have and I know that it’ve been useful for those that use it.

It’s not just OFCOM – it’s also TAG – why aren’t they fighting more to get a central fund?! Oh…TypeTalk is a member of TAG…I guess they won’t be *that* keen to do that…

10 12 2007
Russ Goddard

Hmmm… you mentioned that WebCapTel in the United States is a free 24/7/365 service. That’s news to me. Although the FCC did approve funding for WebCapTel, I have yet to hear any service provider stepping up to provide this valuable service. I am waiting for the day that we on the other side of the pond can use WebCapTel, but for now, I’ve heard nothing to that effect.

I also want to offer my condolences for the loss of WebCapTel in the UK. I do hope that you and other hard of hearing people relying on this service be able to resurrect this service and help you get back on your feet again!

11 12 2007
funnyoldlife

Russ – Oops I meant Captel. This has now been amended.
It is interesting to note that WEB Captel is not offered to you at all. Why is this?

The cost of the captioning service is covered by Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) funds as part of Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is stated on the website http://www.captionedtelephone.com/how-it-works.phtml

and here, under ‘How much does CapTel cost?’
http://www.captionedtelephone.com/faqs.phtml#08

It may differ for your state as the US is not offering it in ALL states but in most, and in some of them, the service is offered at a reduced rate.

I fail to see why the service doesn’t extend to WebCaptel. But at least you are lucky to have Captel – it’s the same service, just on a phone handset rather than a pc. We’ve lost that too.

21 12 2007
thekumquat

Hi – I got this letter too, a whole 3 months after I got the system to actually work. They owed me 2 hours of meeting captioning, too.

Access to Work will now pay for a Screenphone, so I need to order one of them and introduce myself to the pleasures of Typetalk – I’ve never used it but friends have told me of their problems with it. I predict a lot of calls with me going “yeah, I *told* you to email me.”

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