Cash crisis forces deaf users to hang up on phone service

Imagine arriving at work to find that your phone has been taken away while your colleagues still have theirs. And one year on, you’re still without a phone.

That’s what happened to Simon Pearse and Alan Goldsmith last November. Pearse, an actuary who is hard of hearing, started using a technology called captioned telephony (CapTel) to make calls after his company switched to a digital phone system on which he found it difficult to hear clearly. In captioned telephony calls, an operator turns the voice of the hearing caller into captions on the phone of the deaf caller using voice recognition software. Put simply, it is a phone with subtitles.

Goldsmith, a manager at DSM, a global chemical company, says the system enabled him “to have real telephone conversations. In fact, some people who know me had thought my hearing had returned!”

The two men are not alone. An Ofcom feasibility report into relay services found that between 420,000 and 1.2 million people have difficulty in using voice telephony. While many are elderly and could be put off by new technology such as CapTel, the potential uptake is still huge.

Hello, operator?

However, relay phone services depend on subsidies to remain affordable for customers: it is adding the human operators that drives up the cost. As Ross Trotter, vice-chairman of the National Association of Deafened People, told the BBC recently: “For hearing people, a phone call costs a penny a minute. For a deaf person using a video or captioned relay service, the cost is nearly £1 a minute.”

Although CapTel is alive and well in the US, in the UK the service was subsidised by government funding that cost between £70 and £600 per user. This confined the service to working hours, and not enough people used it and the service closed down last November after 18 months, with nothing to replace it.

Read the article in full at The Guardian.

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