Better telephone access for deaf people

2 09 2010

A news release from TAG hit my inbox today, calling for better access to telephones for deaf people. This saga is really dragging on, but it wasn’t easy obtaining captions either. Dan offers a possible solution. Read on …..


Government call for improved disabled access for 2012 must include better access to the telephone for deaf people

2 September 2010

Government must take the initiative to modernise telephone relay services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people if its call for companies to improve disabled access in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics is to mean anything to deaf people, says TAG, the deaf electronic communications consortium.

The Government-commissioned report 2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business shows that almost one-third of disabled people have difficulty in accessing goods and services they want to use. Because of poor access to the telephone network, the percentage of deaf and hard-of hearing people unable to access goods and services is very much higher. As a result the economy suffers and deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens are marginalised.

Ruth Myers, Chairman of TAG, said: “This Government report reflects what TAG has been saying for a very long time: deaf and hard-of-hearing people are excluded from many social and commercial opportunities because of the antiquated way that they must communicate with the hearing world via the voice telephone. Email and texting communications only meet some needs – access to voice telephony is crucial for many employment, commercial and social purposes.

“TAG is campaigning for new types of relay services, such as captioned telephony, video relay and IP relay services, all of which are already available to deaf people in some other countries. Everyone accepts that the provision of additional types of relay service is the way forward, but the trigger for action has to be a Government commitment to find the necessary funding mechanisms. The costs are not high in comparison to the economic and social benefits which will accrue.

“We call on the Government to act now to ensure that modernised telephone relay services for deaf people will be up and running in 2011, ready for use by deaf people to make their booking arrangements for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

TAG is a consortium of the main UK deaf organisations concerned with electronic communications and is campaigning for improved electronic communications for deaf, deafened, hard-of-hearing, and deafblind people, and sign language users.

Follow TAG on Twitter @DeafTAG

Telecommunications Action Group

Media Contact

Stephen Fleming at Palam Communications
t 01635 299116 (voice)

Dan says this one is a no-brainer to fix – for free.
  • Go to and sign up. You’ll be prompted to be assigned a relay phone number.
  • You will enter your address (for expanded 911 service); and then choose an open number in the pool from the pop-up. Write this number down.
  • Now, you can make unlimited free outbound relay calls from your web browser.
But Wait, There’s More!
  • Now, minimize the browser window — We’ll come back to it in a few moments.
  • Next, in a new browser window, go to and get a screen name (skip this step if you already have one). Then, either download the free AIM software, or if you already use another IM service (ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, Google Chat, etc…), download the free Trillian IM software, which will funnel all of your IM services into one small app on your desktop.
  • Install & configure your AIM or Trillian software to automatically launch on startup, and also to autoconnect on launch.
  • Go back to the window and enter your AIM screen name. You can now close that window.
  • Click back on AIM or Trillian and add i711relay to your buddy list. Send an IM with “Hello” in it and you’ll get an autoreply with a couple lines of text.

You now have two additional ways to handle calls:

  1. You can place a call via AIM by sending an IM with the phone number in it.
  2. You can now also receive voice calls on the free number you received when you signed up a few minutes ago.

Now, you can give out that number to hearing friends, family, & businesses as your voice number. When someone dials this number, they will get a relay operator who will send you an IM, and initiate the call.

But Wait, There’s Still More!

Let’s say that the only internet access you have is on a mobile (Blackberry, Treo, or iPhone) via a $35/month data-only plan for the hearing impaired. Simply load the AIM or Trillian software on your mobile, and you can place and receive relay calls, just like on your PC in your home.

Now, let’s say you live in another country and work for an American company: simply enter the US address when you sign up for the service. You will now have a free phone number in the United States for your hearing business associates (and friends & family) to reach you via relay.

How is this all possible… And for free when one end of the relay call is in America?

Every phone line in the United States is taxed about 50 cents per month to fund relay services for the hearing impaired, allowing free enterprise services (such as to thrive in the open market providing services for us. The simple fact is businesses can leverage internet and telephony technology to provide voice relay and turn a profit while doing so.

What a country!

Personally, I would love to see the return of CapTel to the UK. CapTel uses a CapTel phone handset, and WebCapTel uses the internet and any phone including a mobile phone. I was lucky to be able to use both in my job and I found it fantastic – no one realised I was deaf. Unfortunately the company supplying the CapTel service was unable to continue providing it, as it was too expensive to do this without public or government funding. Hence the campaign by TAG to improve telephone relay services in the UK, by either improving Text Relay (formerly Typetalk) or appropriately financing the provision of services such as CapTel and VRS such as SignVideo. You can see SignVideo in action here, provided by Significan’t in London. I found the screen display very clear and could lipread the person.

In the US, you have more than one CapTel provider. You can even get it for Blackberry!

Hamilton CapTel
Sprint CapTel

There is also a service called PhoneCaption.




15 responses

2 09 2010

Nice one from TAG. I thought they’d all died. Whether the Govt will take any notice is a matter for conjecture.

With the Olympics looming on the horizon I wonder if it would be possible to shame the Govt into jazzing up deaf telecoms?
We are far behind the US yet the big telco’s are awash with money. BT is the largest BB provider in Europe and I think about number three worldwide. Against that scale the provision of Captel would be a paltry sum. hmmmm….

Registering for US text relay services has been done before in Britain, someone passed the details round and we all signed up.
However Uncle Sam didn’t like a bunch of aliens using his phone service and so it was blocked to foreign phone lines. Can’t remember exactly when, about 1998.

3 09 2010
Catherine Mellor

I read this on a public computer and thought I was responding, but it looks like I sent a post instead. So at the risk of repeating myself, I just wanted to say that with the 711 relay, I use VCO which is voice carry over. I talk directly to the person I am calling and the relay operator types to me what he says. I don’t see this being done with the i711, so as yet don’t really see any advantages yet over the relay services. What is Captel exactly? Is there a relay operator involved?

3 09 2010

Hi Catherine

CapTel uses a CapTel phone handset, and WebCapTel uses the internet and any phone incl mobile phone. I was lucky to be able to use both. In the US, you have more than one provider.

Hamilton CapTel
Sprint CapTel

You can even get it for Blackberry!

I am sticking the above links and a video into the post.

4 09 2010
Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog

Hi Catherine!

I never quite expected the original article reply I wrote a few months ago on About.Com’s Deafness Forum to quite take off like it did, with Tina picking it up. The original (short) URL is:

Both and are both owned by Purple Communications.


As Tina correctly pointed out, there is also Voice Carry-Over (VCO) service, which is also known as CapTel (Captioned Telephone). This is ideal for post-lingually deafened people, including the elderly, as it’s virtually transparent to the other party.

Let’s say Grandma is very hard-of-hearing. She gets an incoming call from her neighbor to the number she’s had for 40 years. Grandma picks up the phone, says “Hello, Neighbor!” When Neighbor starts talking, Grandma hears it, but also a second or two later the text pops up on the screen on the phone.

There are several variations on this, which are explained on these FAQ pages on the website.

3 09 2010
Beth Everard

America are really pioneering in their approach to telephone and video technology for deaf and hard of hearing people. It is such a shame our government seem to lag so far behind in this. Hopefully we can work around their inadequacies with new captioned telephony, video relay and IP relay services that TAG are rightly pushing for. These make for more cost effective interpreting services anyway, so it’s even more foolish that the government aren’t supporting them.

Anyway, great blog post, thanks for writing about this troubling issue.

3 09 2010
Alan Fitzpatrick

Another good free service is It allows free video recording of up to 10 minutes. It doesn’t include an interpreter but is fine if both people use sign language. The other person doesn’t have to be online when you record it. They play it whenever they want, just like email, only it is a video of you.

4 09 2010
Catherine Mellor

Again, coming back to click the box for “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” So sorry all for not responding, and thank you very much for your responses!

4 09 2010

No problem at all Catherine! 🙂

4 09 2010
Catherine Mellor

And now I just watched the video of one of us being made ‘redundant,’ and I am aching all over with a lump in my throat. I know my tears are useless, but I am finding myself more and more motivated to get active in seeing that we get the services we need without having to be children of rich parents or late-deafened already wealthy adults. I mean the prices for hearing-aids alone keep the poor, deaf Joe in a state of perpetual silence and locks him without choice in the deaf community. Woooo, that makes me mad!

I will be coming back later to pick up on the information about the telephone services. I can’t quite believe that I read it right, that I don’t need a relay operator with a different service. I love those guys, they got me connected to a bigger world, and have saved me a lot of time and trouble, but once in a while I just want a private conversation, no third party. Thanks Tina for this web-site!

5 09 2010
Catherine Mellor

I have checked into CapTel and am feeling slightly overwhelmed. I had really thought the text-relay service was the only thing available to me. And of course the first thing that springs to my mind is, how much does it cost, and of course, the last thing they tell you is how much they cost. So since I still need about four more hours of sleep before I am fully functional I will excuse myself. My son Kajir is also telling me that with my CI’s blue tooth capability I can use it to connect to various things. A friend was over at the house recently with her cell phone and Kajir called me on her phone. I used the cable that comes with the AB CI and after a sec or two to focus, I suddenly heard clearly Kajir saying, “with a little bit of patience and a little bit of practice you will do it.” It was so clear! So I am a little bit stuck here. Don’t really know what I need! And since my lifestyle doesn’t really include the phone I can wait a bit and just practice with clix or the audio-books. Good night all!

5 09 2010

Wow…… looks like you will be fine with some practice on phone work! You may find some phones better than others so keep trying different ones. Fabulous!

30 09 2010
Research on access to telephony services « Campaigning for deaf children

[…] website has more details. And my friend Tina does a lot of campaigning on this, as you can see from her blog, as do the Telecommunications Action Group […]

4 11 2010

There’s also an iPhone app called IP-relay by purple network. They were in Uk years ago but pulled out coz of funding. I am hard of hearing and i always get calls I can’t even hear! My partner is getting sick of being my PA lol. Shame how UK can’t retain these services. Wish there was a way!

4 11 2010
19 06 2015
Joe Smith

As hearing loss becomes a greater concern for young people, companies like Audicus are taking interest in how government is assisting people with hearing disabilities. Check out their blog post about it here: You can also check out their products here:

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