Updated: Oct 6
By Christie Powers
Hearing loss is the third most common problem among older adults. Experts say that approximately 80 percent of all seniors and veterans have some form of hearing loss.
Telephone conversations are often difficult for people with hearing loss as they are not able to rely on lip reading and contextual cues to derive meaning from conversations. In addition, telephones typically do not transmit the full frequency range of speech, which can present a challenge for anyone whose hearing is compromised. Many people with untreated hearing loss shy away from using the phone, often isolating themselves, which can contribute to loneliness, depression, and other negative health effects.
Fortunately, hearing loss doesn’t have to mean the end of telephone communication. Captioned phones can be an excellent tool to help loved ones stay connected.
The concept is simple and has been around since the 1960s. Captioned telephones have a built-in screen that displays text captions of the conversation during the call in near-real time. When the user makes a call, the captioned phone automatically connects to a Captioned Telephone Service (CTS). When the other person answers the phone, the caller hears whatever they say just like with a traditional telephone call. At the same time, the CTS uses advanced voice recognition technology and specially trained communications assistants to transcribe everything that is said into captions, which appear almost simultaneously on the phone display.
Captioned telephones are readily available, relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and can be used with or without hearing aids. They are also free to anyone in the U.S. with hearing loss who has a landline and internet, thanks to a federal FCC program. The user’s hearing loss must be certified by a doctor or audiologist using a simple form. CapTel representatives install the phone and provide education. Hearing-impaired individuals without internet can access a captioned telephone for a one-time cost of $43.70 as long as they have analog phone service. No certification form is required; installation and education are provided by CapTel.
Many users report feeling confident on the phone again after years of avoiding calls or just pretending they understood. Most say that they finally feel connected to distant relatives and friends again. Captioned phones can also play a major role in keeping seniors safe. When people with hearing loss are able to use the phone, they are more likely to reach out and be reached, especially in an emergency. It also means that they will be less likely to fall for phone scams. And when seniors are safe, family caregivers can breathe a little easier.
Christie Powers, MRC-CRC is the Outreach Educator for Captel Captioning Telephones, a company that helps people with hearing loss leverage technology to interact with family, friends, and others. For more information, call (615) 674-4220 or visit OEIUS.org.