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Voice Telephones for people with Hearing Loss

Difficulty with or the inability to use a standard voice telephone is one of the frustrating aspects of hearing loss. Fortunately, technological advances have greatly improved telephone utility to people with hearing loss. From something as simple as an amplified telephone to specialized handsets and electronic band adjustments, a variety of devices are available to assist people with hearing loss in using the voice telephone.

If you’re interested in general information about telephones for people with hearing loss, read on! If you’re looking for information about a specific phone, please see the Telephone portion of our Resource Directory.

What about cell phones. They’ve become hugely popular in the past few years. Can people with hearing loss use Cell Phones?

Have you heard about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)? It’s the next big thing in telecommunications technology.

November 2000 – Confused about all the new features you can get on a phone? Wonder about which ones you can use with the relay service? The ALDACON 2000 Telecomm Shopping for the Millennium workshop may be just the information you need.

May 2001 – The Chinese have announced an interesting new vibration-enhanced telephone that may provide a significantly better telephone experience for some people with hearing loss.

August 2001 – Interested in how a Tcoil works? How about what makes a telephone hearing aid compatible? Ron Vickery’s interesting article explains these concepts and lots more about telecoils and telephones.

November 2002 – Many businesses are converting their phone systems from analog to digital. You may not like what this means for people with hearing loss. Here are some of the issues.

March 2003 – Many people with hearing loss are unable to use the phone, because they can’t see the speaker’s lips – until now! Israeli Invention Allows Lipreading on the Phone

March 2004 – Looking for some advice on what to look for in a phone? Then this article by Cindy Shapiro may be just what you’re looking for!

August 2004 – Here’s another article on a lipreadable phone, this time from England!

Digital vs. Analog Phone Systems

November 2002

Editor: As digital technology continues to displace analog technology, problems can arise that may not have been foreseen. Here’s an article from NVRC News that warns of potential problems with digital phone systems.

A fact sheet released by the Hearing Speech & Deafness Center in Seattle, WA describes how digital phone technology ‘has become the standard for businesses across the country…offering multi-line service combined with extra features such as in-house voice mail systems at a much lower cost than traditional analog technology. Digital phone lines often have more wires than a home phone line, and they are configured differently, which means that traditional analog phones will most often not function when plugged into digital lines…….this also means that there are no universal amplifiers or TTYs for use with digital phone systems.’

The fact sheet goes on to warn that due to differences in the amount of electricity carried in digital phone lines, plugging a digital phone line into a TTY, amplified phone or signaling device can cause serious damage to this equipment and possibly to the phone system itself. It is important to determine whether a phone line is digital or analog before installing assistive equipment.

Most telephone lines in the home will be analog lines that are safe for TTYs, amplified phones and signaling equipment. However, it is not advised to connect any assistive devices to an ISDN line often used for internet service, as this may damage assistive equipment.

DSL service, on the other hand, is analog technology and safe for use with assistive technology.

It is likely that telephone systems in the workplace will be running on digital lines which are not safe for TTYs, amplified phones or signaling equipment, since the majority of businesses use ISDN, PBX or T1 phone systems. Often there are analog ports within the system that can be used with assistive equipment and it is important to confirm the analog status of these ports before attaching any assistive device.

It is becoming more common to find digital phone systems in places of public accommodation such as hotels and hospitals, so it is advisable to ask if the phone systems have been upgraded recently or whether there is an analog phone line.

In-line amplifiers can be used on digital phone systems, and TTYs can be used with digital phones by placing the handset into the acoustic couplers on top of the TTY and dialing through the phone.

Israeli Invention Allows Lipreading on the Phone

March 2003

I’ve recently seen a couple of stories about a new technology that allows a person to lipread over the phone. LipC was created by an Israeli company called SpeechView, and it is being marketed in conjunction with an Israeli cell phone provider called Cellcom.

A LipC user connects her phone to a computer that is running the LipC software; the software uses voice recognition technology to convert speech into a visual image of a face that is producing the speech. That image is displayed on the computer screen. In addition to the representation of the face, LipC uses patches of color on the nose, cheeks, and throat to help distinguish between sounds that are difficult or impossible to differentiate through lipreading alone.

LipC will work with any phonetic language, although it has currently been adapted to only English and Hebrew. SpeechView provides instructional kits to help users become proficient, a process that the company estimates takes two or three days. LipC costs about $150.

I think LipC sounds like a great idea, and the potential is there, but I see a couple of potential difficulties.

One is the use of voice recognition on random voices. That application does not work very well when the goal is to convert the voices to text. I believe that producing phonemes (component sounds of language) is easier than producing text, so the analogy to more conventional voice recognition applications may not be appropriate.

The second difficulty is that some people just aren’t good lipreaders. Lipreading seems to be a talent that some have and others don’t. I do believe that anyone can improve with instruction and practice, but I don’t believe that everyone can become sufficiently proficient to use a technology like LipC.

For additional information, and to see a LipC demonstration, please point your browser to http://www.speechview.com/. And if anyone has tried this product, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lipread-able Phones Could Help Millions

August 2004

Editor: This is the second time we’ve seen a story about a lipread-able phone. The one from a couple of years ago seems to have come to naught. This particular technology is being tested by RNID, the largest British charity for people with hearing loss, and the technology does look promising.

Now I have a question for you. Is the technology described in this article better for people with hearing loss than standard videoconferencing? We are seeing videoconferencing technology being installed all over the place, and it’s targeted towards people who sign. Several years ago, when this technology was just entering the mainstream, the promotional materials included references to assisting people who relied on their hearing by allowing them to lipread the other party. But that application seems to have gone by the wayside. It seems to me that there are lots of people who don’t currently do very well on the phone, but would do just fine if they could lipread the other person. Am I missing something here?

Here’s the story on the RNID lipread-able phone.

RNID is helping to test a new invention for deaf and hard of hearing people – a phone you can lipread.

For millions of deaf and hard of hearing people, lipreading is essential to communication. Using the phone can be impossible, and as the population ages, this problem will increase.

RNID is working to develop a cutting edge technological solution. Synface, short for “Synthetic talking face”, provides a computer-generated talking face that recreates the speaker’s lip movements on a screen for the listener.

People should be able to use the system on mobiles and home phones within the next four to five years.

RNID has been running trials with hard of hearing people, and feedback to date has been extremely positive – nearly all (84%) testers state it helps them make phone calls.

Neil Thomas, Technology Development Manager from RNID says:

“Potentially, this innovation could help millions of people to use the telephone. This is crucial if we are to prevent the isolation faced by many deaf and hard of hearing people as they get older.”

To see how the technology might look, visit http://www.rnid.org.uk/synface

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