A new service becomes available for deaf and hearing-impaired Iowans after the first of the year. Iowa Utilities Board spokesman Rob Hillesland says “Cap Tel” will make it easier for them to use regular telephones. It’s a specialized new type of relay service, a government program that can help hard-of-hearing users enjoy natural conversations like anyone else on the telephone. There’s still the teletype TTY service for users who prefer, and of course texting and e-mail offer new high-tech ways for the hearing impaired to communicate.
Hillesland says while they can hear and speak normally, “Cap Tel” also has a small screen that will show scrolling text of what’s being said. Using that technology, captions can flow across the screen on a special telephone these people are equipped with. They can just about simultaneously read what the other person’s saying, allowing them to have the kind of conversation you would on a normal telephone. The intermediate step is an operator in the system.
Behind the scenes, an operator will hear the speaker and will simultaneously repeat their words into a computer speech-to-text program which makes the printed words appear on the Cap Tel screen. Hillesland says the caller and the person they’ve called will not hear that operator, but will see the words.
The operation of the system will be funded through Telecommunications Access Iowa, paid for with a small levy on every phone company in the state. To learn more or get the equipment, users can reach them by calling 800-606-5099 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org