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.

WebCapTel hits Australia

2 01 2010

…. and I’m mighty jealous! But I’m mighty happy for them too! I had WebCapTel for a couple of years until they ran out of funding in the UK and it was FABULOUS. It works in a different way from Text Relay (formerly known as Typetalk). With WebCapTel, the speaker’s voice is relayed to a computer (with operator overseeing) and the computer converts it into text displayed on the deaf person’s internet or mobile phone screen, the deaf person speaks back as normal. The beauty of this system is that you can use it with any landline or mobile phone and the text is relayed very fast, so it fits into the hearing world’s phone systems very well. I was using the WebCapTel phone system every day at work, in finance, so was relaying lots of numbers, and no one even realised I was deaf ….. it is THAT good. The operator cannot butt into your call like the Text Relay operator does, because the system doesn’t allow them to do it. It’s YOUR call. Fecking brilliant!

If you’re in Australia, you can sign up to the 2 year captioned telephony trial being run by the Australian Communication Exchange – enjoy it! Spread the word and tell us how you find it!

In the UK, we are still fighting for WebCapTel. Help the campaign by writing to your MP, or better still, make arrangements to phone them – the first time via Text Relay, and the second time via WebCapTel – so they can compare the services. Better still, get your MP to try phoning their bank or another automated phone number service via Text Relay – hehehe.  If you’d like to see a demonstration of WebCapTel,  email Telecommunications Action Group at tagenquiries @

Facebook TAG campaign page

TAG campaign updates

Trying out WebCaptel, just log in (online on the WebCapTel site) the phone numbers you are calling from and calling to, and once the numbers are connected, your handset rings and you pick it up. The hearing person’s voice is relayed to your computer or phone screen within 3 seconds of being spoken.

Telecoms and Convergent Media Event

25 09 2009

The next in UCL Advances series of Technology Innovation Forum events will cover telecoms and convergent media and will take place on 12 November 2009 in central London.

How will new telecommunications technologies develop? Where will the social, economic and legal barriers between digital and real-world lives break-down? Where will the innovations in new media take us?

This half-day conference will cover:
• New telecoms and media technologies
• The need for collaboration between traditional telecom suppliers and media service providers
• The technical, legal and social problems faced and the disruptive forces to convergence

Although the technology is in place, deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK are being denied access to a modern telephone relay service. Christopher Jones is the director of AccEquE Ltd, a company that offers consultancy services in telecommunications for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. He will be speaking at this event about captioned telephony and video relay telephony for deaf and hard of hearing people. Come and show him some support, see him demonstrate captioned and video telephony for deaf people, try it out for yourself, and take this opportunity to ask him questions. The campaign to have a modern telephony service for deaf people in the UK is ongoing and Christopher is one of the leaders in this campaign.

Volunteers are needed to man the captioned telephony stand. Please contact Christopher on cfgjones at bt internet dot com if you can help.

Further details after the jump.

A palantypist (speech to text reporter) and Christopher’s sign language interpreter will be available at the event.

Telephony campaign update

13 11 2008

Cathy Heffernan at The Guardian has written an article about the TAG campaign, following See Hear’s report yesterday. You can catch See Hear’s report for another 6 days here (UK only).

Exciting news … for the USA

6 11 2008

Some exciting news for our USA counterparts that is going to make our UK friends and colleagues cringe!

Three weeks ago, Sprint, one of the two US CapTel Relay Providers announced WebCapTel on the Go. Meaning it works with Windows Mobile 6 handsets! Yes, Mobile WebCapTel. Its free as usual! You need two mobilephones, one of which is a smartphone with Internet.


Mobile WebCapTel

News snippet

Last week, Hamilton, the second of the two US CapTel Relay Providers announced their WebCapTel on the Go using Apple IPhone! VERY nice for them! (I’m going green here!)



Join the UK campaign to get this modern phone technology for deaf people adopted in the UK. We want it too!

Campaign updates are posted on Funny Old Life’s blog
Campaign updates are also posted on the Facebook group Campaign : deaf people want greater access to modern phone technology
Contact us if you think you can help us with the campaign!

Watch out for See Hear’s programme on Wednesday 12 November, when the TAG campaign will be screened, so you can see this for yourself! Episode 18 of the programme investigates what the Government could do to improve access to telecommunications for the deaf. Link is HERE.

Deaf people calling for better telephone access

3 04 2008

Today, the BBC filmed the Video Relay Service (for BSL deaf) and the WebCapTel Captioned Relay Service (for deaf with speech) in action. This will go on BBC Online News, hopefully today. An article has been written about it, you can see the link HERE on BBC News Online. This is in aid of TAG‘s campaign for alternative relay services 24 hours 7 days week and 365 year at no cost to the user other than a standard telephone call cost.


“Deaf telecoms not yet in the 21st Century”, says TAG

The Government was accused today of letting down deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens by failing to enable them to have access to modernised, fairly-priced telecom services suited to their needs. While an everyday part of hearing people’s lives since the 1960s, poor access to the telephone severely affects the lives and life chances of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

New-style services which enable deaf people to use the phone have been available for several years and are used widely in countries like America and Australia. These services have appeared in the UK, but only two remain as the others have been forced to close through a lack of funding. TAG, which represents all the UK’s main deaf and hard-of-hearing organisations concerned with electronic communications, is today encouraging deaf people to take a on-off opportunity to use two telephone services adapted to their needs to lobby their MPs and call for policies that will bring deaf telecoms in Britain into the 21st Century.

Today’s event marks the start of TAG’s campaign ‘Bringing Deaf Telecoms into the 21st Century’. Ruth Myers, chair of TAG, said: “Four decades after telephones became commonplace in British households, many deaf and hard-of-hearing people still struggle to use the telephone network and some cannot use it at all. They are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain equality with the rest of society, educationally and professionally. “New types of phone relay systems using technologies like video communications and the Internet can dramatically improve telecommunications for deaf people, but the powers-that-be are dragging their feet in enabling their use by deaf and hard-of-hearing people at an affordable price. This is discrimination and an infringement of our human rights. Such services are already available at no extra cost in countries such as Sweden, the USA and Australia.”

To start the lobby of MPs, sign language users are expected to inundate one of the two remaining UK-based video relay services. A few other deaf people have been given a one-off chance to use a captioned relay service in the USA to contact their MPs – last December, the captioned relay service that operated in the UK closed. Sign language users will communicate with their MPs on a phone via an interpreter and a system called video relay, while others will use captioned relay to talk to their MP using their own voice and reading the MP’s reply in text on-screen almost as soon as he or she speaks.

Ruth Myers added: “All deaf and hard-of-hearing people are asking for is to be able to use technology that already exists at a fair price. We want to keep pace with technology. We want equality in education, training, the workplace and as consumers and citizens in the information society.”

TAG is a consortium made up of the British Deaf Association, LINK, National Association of Deafened People, Deafax, National Deaf Children’s Society, Deaf Broadcasting Council, Royal Association in Aid of Deaf People, Deafness Support Network, Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), deafPLUS, Scottish Council on Deafness, Hearing Concern and Sense.

~~~ Deaf telephone services that can change lives ~~~

Captioned telephony
Captioned telephony was available in the UK from 2002-2007 on a very limited basis. With two communication channels, speech recognition software to convert the relay operator’s voice into text, deaf people can read the conversations on their PCs or telephone displays with minimal delay. Captel, the only captioned relay service in the UK, was closed in December 2007 for funding reasons.

Video Relay
Video relay enables sign language users to communicate on the telephone through a sign language interpreter. The sign language user and interpreter interact via PCs and webcams or videophones. Two services currently operate in the UK: Significan’t’s SignVideo service and a fledgling service in Scotland. Last year, video relay services run by RNID and the BDA closed.

Text Relay
Text relay has existed in the UK since the 1980s and as a national service, RNID Typetalk, since 1991, but funding issues have inhibited its development. Text relay enables deaf people with keyboards and screens to communicate via an operator who speaks or types parts of conversations as required. In its current format, the relay process can be quite slow and can inhibit conversations. Nonetheless it is a hugely valuable service. TAG wants to see developments in text relay which, for example, speed up the communication and allows access via the Internet.


You can find your MP at ‘Write to them’ – simply type in your postcode. Please write to them and explain how/why you would find a 24 hour and free Captioned Relay service beneficial to you. It’s very easy to sit there and let someone else do it. If you want to participate fully in the hearing world, this is your chance to change things for the better and bring telecomms access for deaf people into the 21st Century.

Online captioned telephone calls

2 04 2008

Attempting to use telephony for business purposes is very frustrating. I’ve used Typetalk for a number of years and wasn’t happy with the service, it was good but not quite appropriate in the fast moving corporate world. Don’t get me wrong, Typetalk is fantastic and the operators are usually helpful. What I don’t like about Typetalk is –

Hang-ups. People would hang up on me repeatedly because they thought the Typetalk operator was trying to sell them double glazing, and I was forced to ask a hearing person to either make the call for me or to exlpain that a deaf person was trying to call them through something called Typetalk and they were not to hang up during the connection process.

Unnaturalness. Hearing people don’t like the delays created by a Typetalk conversation, it also feels like using a CB radio as it’s quite stilted – I say my bit then ‘Go Ahead’, then the respondent says their bit then ‘Go Ahead’ – the conversation loses all spontaniety.

Obvious third party presence. Some operators are men, which can be embarrassing if you are saying ‘I love you’ to your husband and the operator repeats this in a male voice to your husband…. I’ve had operators cut me off in a call, telling my friend on the other end ‘she’s not deaf’ when I’ve had the good fortune of a very clear line and an Irish accent which is dead easy for me to understand!

Acceptance. Hearing people largely don’t really understand how Typetalk works, and combined with the unnaturalness of the conversation and the third party presence, some are not keen to use it. Doesn’t help professional relations.

Handset. I needed a textphone, the cheapest start at £300. My main gripe with this is that I am tied to that particular phone, I can’t just walk into a colleague’s office and pick up their phone, like a hearing person could.

Prefix. If I want to call someone, I have to remember to dial 18001 before their number, and let’s not forget where to dial the 9 to get out of your office systems. If someone wants to call me, they have to REMEMBER to dial 18002 then my number. Of course, most people don’t remember, the call comes through and it’s direct – no captions. And I’m struggling to cope with this caller I can’t hear and the phone keeps ringing. Ugh.

What I really DID like about Typetalk was-

Cost. It’s cheap, Typetalk users get a 60% rebate on phone calls made.

Access It’s available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Typetalk means I can make calls for myself, from work AND from home. I can phone for pizza, call a cab, have a chat with a friend.

Last year I used CapTel which was eminently suitable for my professional needs. The CapTel operator CANNOT intervene at any point as the system works quite differently.

Let’s say I call Maria. Maria’s speech is repeated by the CapTel operator into their computer and the computer transcribes this speech onto my phone screen. I read Maria’s speech off the screen and speak back to her.


This happens with a delay of 3 seconds which is unnoticed by most people. When it is noticed by those too impatient to wait a few seconds, I say ‘Oh, I don’t hear well, my phone uses voice recognition technology so there is a slight delay while I read what you’ve said.’ This delay arises from the time it takes for the speech to be transcribed and for me to read it. Hearing people find this a perfectly acceptable explanation (if simplified!) and are even enthusiastic about it and very interested, and the conversation often turns into an explanation of how the system works! I’ve never ever had a hearing person be enthusiastic about Typetalk. I don’t even need to use a prefixed number, it’s a direct dial for me to call someone, no faffing about with 18001 then 9 then 020 9834 … or is it 9 then 18001 then 020 9834…. see, even I have problems sometimes!

CapTel then developed last year into the next level of technology, WebCapTel. This was essentially the same system, but it worked over the internet. This meant I could log into my CapTel account online (no expensive handset needed! – it’s like logging into your Amazon account) and a screen would pop up, like the one you get in MSN Messenger. The WebCapTel service would ring my phone (NORMAL PHONE HANDSET!) and the respondent’s phone simultaneously, I would pick up my phone when it rings (that means I’m connected to WebCapTel), and our conversation would start straightaway. I speak and the respondent’s conversation appears on my computer screen like magic. I can go to any ordinary phone or even use a compatible mobile, log in on an available computer, and talk. Complete freedom to roam! I can also used Captioned Relay for international conference calls, using a conference microphone.

The only thing I didn’t like about CapTel or WebCapTel was that it cost £1 a minute for the captioning element of the calls – both incoming and outgoing.

The WebCapTel service in the UK was pulled at the end of 2007 due to lack of funding.

I have been without a telephone since November 2007. I got a ScreenPhone from the RNID but this uses Typetalk, and due to the nature of my building’s phone systems, I can’t accept calls from my colleagues within the building – I can only accept external calls. How annoying. It’s tiresome having to explain to people how Typetalk works, dealing with the delays, stilted conversations, trying to get connected, argh argh argh! Hearing people don’t know how lucky they are, they can just pick up a handset and go.

In the USA, my choices would be quite different. Two relay service providers, Sprint and Hamilton have started WebCapTel Relay Service 24 hours 7 day and 365 days a year service at no cost to the hard of hearing, deafened and deaf with speech users other than the cost of a standard call, as from 1st March 2008. BUT ONLY IN THE USA! Both Sprint and Hamilton have been running CapTel relay services for a while, offering the service in Spanish and English. There is even a Sprint Relay blog. No-one is allowed to use it outside the USA. TCC has ruled this because the USA does not want the cost of the relay services to be given over to users outside the USA. The same thing applies to their IP Text Relay Services.

Why don’t we have this service available in the UK? Not only do the US have these fantastic services to enable professional equality on a par with hearing colleagues, the Federal Commission on Communications (FCC) approved for WebCapTel to be reimburseable and with no limit – this was released last December.

I’d love to see a free and modern captioned telephony service widely available in the UK, to allow deaf people to use the phone on a par with their hearing peers. That’s not asking for much is it, when we can put people on the moon? But hey, we could always move to the USA.