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North Hills Monthly

Captioned Telephones Help Hard-of-Hearing Individuals Retain Independence

Jul 31, 2016 08:18PM ● By Erica Cebzanov

With TV closed-captioning, audio content is displayed as text messaging on the screen, providing deaf or hard-of-hearing people equal access to programming. Similarly, the CapTel captioned telephone converts every word a caller speaks into text on a color display screen. 

CapTel phones were developed for hard-of-hearing individuals who lacked familiarity with the text telephone (TTY) system that many deaf people use. “We get a lot of testimonials from users saying that they haven’t been able to talk on the phone in years,” said Amy Mueller, marketing and social media coordinator for Ultratec, CapTel’s parent company. “They can finally have a real phone conversation again. It allows a lot of our users, who tend to be a little older, to maintain their independence.” 

The company offers several models. The first requires high-speed Internet access, even though the captions still appear on phone screens. “When you’re calling out, your voice is still being carried over the phone line, but the captions are actually being carried to you through the Internet line,” explained Mueller. The CapTel 840i is a traditional-style telephone featuring a large keypad, and easy-to-read display screen for captions. 

Users with low vision may find the CapTel 880i’s large screen and option for increased font size ideal. The 2400i model utilizes a screen that Mueller said functions similarly to a tablet. “You still get captions on that screen, but it also has a normal keypad, so, you have both a touchscreen function and keypad function,” she explained.

CapTel 840 is a classic model that only requires an analog phone line. “The model 840 does not require Internet service, so when you dial out, you automatically get captions,” said Mueller. “But when people call you, they need to dial an 800 number first, then your phone number, for you to receive the captions.” CapTel provides clients with business card-sized “call me cards” displaying the captioning service number for distribution to their contacts.

Each phone contains additional features, such as an option to amplify sound. “You can adjust the sound to a setting so you can hear best,” said Mueller. “You can also adjust the tone, so if you have trouble hearing a higher tone–for instance, when talking to your granddaughter–you can adjust the tone so that it comes through a little more clearly. It all makes for a better user experience.” CapTel phones also come standard with answering machines and speed dial. Caller ID can be included in the user’s phone service plan.

CapTel users can purchase their phones up front—there are no fees or contracts—and continue to pay their existing phone carrier bills. The phones are available for $75, but, per Federal Communications Commission regulations, people can receive the Internet-based models for free if an approved health care provider completes a form found on the CapTel website.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s Telecommunications Device Distribution Program provides the 840 model phones at a reduced cost for those who qualify. Applicants will need to submit proof of disability, income, phone service and state residency.

CapTel assists with phone installation by offering manuals, instructional videos and, depending on a client’s location, on-site help. The customer service department is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. “There is always support in case you have a problem,” Mueller said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, call 800-233-9130 or visit To learn about Pennsylvania’s Telecommunications Device Distribution Program, call 800-204-7428 (voice) or 866-268-0579 (TTY).