Phones and telephones have become the major sources of communication in this digital era. However, as an audiologist, I have come across several people who are hard of hearing and find it challenging to hear conversations correctly over a phone or telephone. 

Due to weaker telephone signals, people with different degrees of hearing loss report difficulty communicating over the phone. Also, many studies suggest that hearing aids or cochlear implants are not effective in helping hard-of-hearing people hear phone or telephone conversations clearly. This is where the role of a caption telephone comes into play. 

Caption telephones are telephones specially designed to assist people with hearing loss in understanding conversations by displaying text on a built-in screen. These telephones are commonly referred to as CapTel phones

In this article, my aim is to introduce you to captioned telephones, their benefits and features, factors to consider while choosing the captioned telephone, and a few of the best-captioned phones.  

Understanding Captioned Telephones

A captioned telephone, or CapTel, is a specially formulated telephone with a built-in screen to display the conversations as text, enabling hard-of-hearing individuals to communicate effectively. 

Simply put, a captioned telephone is a special telephone for hard-of-hearing individuals that displays every word spoken by the other individual over the call on the screen. The primary objective of captioned telephones is to allow people with hearing loss to participate actively in telephone conversations without misinterpreting content.

The process of displaying text on the telephone’s screen is called call captioning. Call captioning transcribes one-sided or both-sided phone conversations into easy-to-read text. 

How Do Captioned Telephones Work? 

Captioned telephones leverage Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) to offer call captioning over the telephone. They do not require a home internet service for call captioning. 

CTS companies generally use a live captioning agent and automated speech recognition (ASR) or other voice recognition technology. When you place a call, a captioning live agent is able to hear the person you want to speak with. Further, the live captioning agent repeats everything the other person on the call says, and automated speech recognition (ASR) converts speech into text, which is displayed on the screen of a captioned phone. This entire process takes place in real time. 

Importance of Accurate Captions for Effective Communication 

Accurate captions play a vital role in effective communication. Inaccurate captions can lead to miscommunication or misinterpretation, further leading to misunderstanding. 

Furthermore, accurate captions aid hard-of-hearing individuals in fully grasping the conversations, gaining confidence while communicating with others, and not missing important conversations. They will have equal access to telecommunications. 

Benefits and Features of Caption Telephones

Let me now walk you through some potential benefits of caption phones for hard-of-hearing individuals. 

  1. Improved accessibility, communication, independence 

    Captioned telephones have improved accessibility for people with hearing loss by displaying all the spoken words as text on the screen. Even if those people cannot listen to conversations, they can read the text and comprehend the content. This ensures that people with hearing impairment get an equal chance to participate in phone conversations, be it for personal or professional purposes. 

    Furthermore, real-time call captioning offered by captioned telephones reduces the risk of misunderstanding over the phone. It helps heard-of-hearing individuals overcome communication barriers and communicate independently and confidently. They will not need assistance from other people, creating a sense of self-reliance.
  2. Real-time captioning capabilities

    The real-time captioning feature displays the corresponding text on the screen as soon as the conversation over the phone starts. This helps people with hearing impairment understand quickly what the other person on the call is talking about.

    Moreover, these captions change dynamically as soon as the speaker over the call changes the dialogue, allowing people with hearing difficulty to stay engaged in the conversation. 
  3. Adjustable font size and display options

    Another benefit of captioned phones is customization options. These telephones provide the flexibility to choose from a plethora of display options and the font size of the text displayed on the screen. As a result, hard-of-hearing individuals can customize these options based on their needs and preferences. 
  4. Compatibility with hearing aids and cochlear implants

    Captioned phones generally come with compatibility with assistive hearing devices, including hearing aids and cochlear implants. Call captioning in conjunction with hearing aids or cochlear implants ensures an improved hearing experience, a better understanding of conversations, and an effective communication solution. 

Choosing the Right Caption Telephone

caption phones

Selecting a caption telephone can be overwhelming, with multiple options available on the market. However, below, I have mentioned a few indispensable features every captioned telephone must have. 

Ease of Use 

Ease of use is the primary factor to consider while selecting a captioned telephone. It is important to note that the telephone you choose should have a large display so that you can read captions easily. In addition, the interface should be intuitive, with proper buttons and controls, to get an enhanced user experience. You should be able to customize the font size and adjust the screen brightness effortlessly as per your preference. 

Features 

The next factor to look for while buying a captioned telephone is features. Ensure that the telephone offers 

  • Real-time call captioning of phone conversations
  • Adjustable volume settings to meet your hearing needs
  • Compatibility with hearing aids or cochlear implants for a better hearing experience
  • Customer support 
  • A long-lasting battery life 

Service and Support 

It is necessary that the captioned telephone provider should offer round-the-clock support, as it is common for a novice to get stuck or face difficulties while using one. Check what different types of methods are available for communication, for instance, an email, chat, contact number, etc. These are all live support features. 

Cost 

caption telephone

The last essential factor to take into account is the cost of the captioned telephone. You can find a lot of low-cost options out here. However, it is important to check whether they offer all features essential for people with hearing impairment. 

More interestingly, captioned telephones are available at no cost for qualified individuals. Three organizations, namely Courtesy of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS), have established funds to assist people with hearing difficulties in using telephones. 

The eligible candidates are U.S. residents who have professionally certified hearing loss. Apart from registered users with hearing loss, other people are restricted from using captioned telephones. 

Top 3 Caption Telephones for Hard-of-Hearing

Here, I have listed my top recommendations for caption telephones with their features, pros, and cons. These recommendations can definitely help you choose the best one for you. 

caption telephone

CapTel 840 is among the best caption telephones for seniors, and it does not require any internet connection, unlike other telephones from CapTel’s lineup. Being the most basic phone model analogous to a standard corded telephone, it uses standard telephone lines. Hence, it is simple to use and less tech-savvy, perfectly ideal for seniors. 

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02/18/2024 02:18 pm GMT

Features:

  • Font sizes and styles are customizable to an individual’s needs and preferences. 
  • Compatible with hearing aids, making it easy for hard-of-hearing individuals to hear conversations clearly. 
  • Adjustable volume or tone is an added feature completely catered to hearing-impaired people. 
  • Comes with a built-in phonebook, which can save 95+ contact names. 
  • Features a speed dial, making it easy for users to access frequently dialed numbers. 

Pros

  • No need for an internet connection. 
  • Adjustable font sizes and styles. 
  • Available at no cost in some states in the U.S. for individuals with professionally certified hearing loss. 

Cons

  • The display is not a touchscreen. 
caption telephone

This is a revolutionary captioned telephone from ClearCaptions that displays real-time captions on an intuitive and easy-to-use touchscreen display. It does not charge anything for a call or captioning service for people with hearing loss. Though the telephone has a standard look, it has a touchscreen display with dial pads and control buttons on the left. 

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Features: 

  • Features a portrait-mode display screen, making navigation easy and intuitive. 
  • The built-in answering machine records the calls you missed. 
  • A built-in flasher activates when you get a call. 
  • Automatically connects with the captioning service without the need to dial a toll-free number. 
  • Compatible with hearing aids. 

Pros

  • Free, ongoing customer support to help people learn new technology. 
  • Free installation and guidance from a ClearCaptions specialist. 
  • Easy to use and navigate. 
  • A touchscreen display.

Cons

  • Only one captioned telephone model is available.
caption telephone

If you are looking for an advanced captioning service, CaptionCall by Sorenson is a perfect option to consider. It offers a free service to people with hearing impairment through its caption telephone device. The auto-scrolling screen is sufficient to display big, clear text.   

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Features:

  • The high-resolution touchscreen display has a sleek design and works similarly to a smartphone or tablet. 
  • Provides accurate captions quickly using live agents, speech recognition software, and a transcription service. 
  • Adjustable font sizes and styles and screen brightness. 
  • Compatible with most hearing aids and compliant with Telecommunications Industry Association standard TIA-1083.  

Pros

  • A large, high-resolution touchscreen display. 
  • Supports WiFi and Bluetooth. 
  • Comes with multiple menu shortcuts and options. 

Cons

  • Only one model is available. 

Conclusion

Caption telephones have been serving as the best tool for people with hearing loss to communicate over a phone. They are game-changers, as they boost the confidence of hard-of-hearing people to hear over the call clearly and participate in conversations. The captions displayed on the telephone’s screen are easy to read, allowing people with hearing loss to understand and not miss any content during a call. 

So, if you have a certain degree of hearing loss and if it is professionally certified, you can avail of the caption telephone service for free.

However, when choosing the telephone, ensure to consider its ease of use, cost, support and service, and essential features, such as adjustable font size and styles and volume, built-in phonebook, real-time captioning, and long-lasting battery life. 

Head Hearing Health Clinician at Florida Hearing Institute | + posts

Florida License: AS-2471 – NPI: 1992749147

Ivonne Baixeras is a Florida-Licensed Hearing Instrument Specialist with a track record of almost three decades treating hearing problems in Miami-Dade County and serving the needs of thousands of satisfied patients. Ivonne is a graduate of both Miami-Dade College & Florida International University and worked for many years at the largest national chain of hearing clinics in the US where she's received multiple awards.

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