Hearing and Speech Communication Services and Devices
What are hearing and speech communication services and devices?
There are many devices and services available to help improve and support communication
in daily life for those with speech or language problems. For example, in 1993, the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) began requiring all telephone companies to provide
telecommunications relay services. Other services and devices range from telephone
amplifiers to visual alert systems. New devices are portable and can work with cell
phones. If you need help finding out about the services below, ask your speech-language
specialist or your healthcare provider for assistance and referrals.
What is a telecommunication relay service?
A telecommunication relay service helps someone with a hearing loss or speech impairment
communicate with people who have a regular phone, cordless phone, pay phone, or a
cell phone. The hearing-impaired person calls another person with the help of a communications
assistant (CA). The hearing-impaired person calls using a text telephone (TTY), which
the CA then verbally relays to the other caller. The CA then types the person's response
back to the TTY caller.
There are two types of telecommunication relay services: voice carry-over (VCO) and
hearing carry-over (HCO).
With VCO, the caller speaks directly to the other person, but reads the response typed
by the CA.
With HCO, the caller listens to the other caller, but types his or her response.
The CAs are professional. They will relay your conversations word for word and are
confidential. You can reach these free telecommunication relay services by dialing
Other assistive communication devices
Some other assistive communication devices for the hearing- or speech-impaired include:
Telephone devices for the deaf (TDD)
TDDs allow you to call another person who has a TDD and type messages that are displayed
on a visual screen. TDDs come in a variety of models and can also be used with telecommunication
Another telephone device, a telecoil, can be used with certain hearing aids. The telecoil
is a small magnetic coil in the hearing aid. It helps improve sound during telephone
Amplifiers that are portable or built into the receiver of the telephone can help
increase the volume for the listener. In addition, for those who have trouble hearing
the high-pitched ring of the telephone, the sound can be replaced with a lower tone
bell or buzzer, or with a visual alert.
Radio, stereo, and television amplifiers
Instead of turning the radio, stereo, or television up loud, certain devices can connect
with hearing aids to directly send the audio signal via a receiver. Whether using
headphone devices or wireless devices, these amplifiers allow a hearing-impaired person
to listen to radio, stereo, or TV at a comfortable level without interference of background
Visual signaling devices can alert a hearing-impaired person to auditory signals he
or she cannot hear. Visual signaling devices that flash a light can be purchased for
telephones, doors, alarms, baby monitors, and more. Other signaling devices include
a vibrating option that can awaken the hearing-impaired person.
Captions for the hearing-impaired
Captions are the words displayed on a television screen that follow along with the
audio portion of the program. Viewers who are hearing-impaired can read the captions
to follow the dialogue and action at the same time. Captions also describe sound effects
that are important to the story line.
Captions can be "open" or "closed." Open captions appear on every television set.
Closed captions require a set-top decoder or built-in decoder circuitry. Since closed-caption
technology is so widely available now, open-caption technology is rarely used.