How to Choose the Best Caption Phone

Many older adults experience hearing loss that prevents them from enjoying phone conversations with friends and loved ones, making them feel more isolated and increasing their sense of loneliness.

This is true even for individuals who have hearing aids because feedback can sometimes interfere with the sound quality making it difficult to pick up parts of a conversation.

However, did you know that each state has a Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program (TEDP), that provides free or low-cost captioned telephone equipment and captioning services to qualified individuals to accommodate their hearing loss and improve phone access?

What is a Captioned Telephone?

Captioned telephones are special phones that have a built-in visual display screen that shows the text of every word the other person on a call speaks. This display of the text is called captioning and it can help your loved one stay connected even if they experience hearing loss.  

How Do Captioned Telephones Work?

When an outgoing call is placed using a captioned telephone, the call is automatically connected to a Captioned Telephone Service (CTS). CTS companies employ specially trained operators called communications assistants.

Once the outbound call is placed and the communications assistant is connected they can then hear the person you wish to speak with. They then repeat everything the person you are speaking with says and speech recognition technology automatically transcribes their voice into text. This captioned text is then displayed on the captioned telephone.

Where to Start If Your Loved One Could Benefit from Using a Captioned Telephone?

Because captioned telephones and captioned telephone services are not available in every state, you should begin by searching your state on the Hearing Loss Association of America's state directory to find out if there are any available programs in your area.

Next, follow along with our 4-step process.

Step 1: Determine Eligibility for a Free Caption Phone

Before you research the free, available caption phones you need to first determine if your aging parent is eligible to receive one.

The three basic categories of hearing loss are sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.

Speak to your physician (or audiologist if you already have one) about the initial diagnosis and qualification.

In addition, this technology service is free to service members and Veterans, including their loved ones and anyone with hearing loss.

If you are not sure where to start or what would be considered hearing loss consider the easy-to-follow guidance from the National Institutes of Health.

Do you notice your aging parent display any (or more than just one) of the following signs:

  • Having trouble hearing over the telephone
  • Finding it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking
  • Often asking people to repeat what they are saying
  • Turning up the TV volume so loud that others complain
  • Having a problem hearing because of background noise
  • Thinking that others seem to mumble

Once the hearing loss is identified, make sure you have high-speed internet and a home phone connection for a landline phone. With this combination, you are ready for Step 2.

Step 2: Research the Caption Phone Companies

Each of the companies listed below provides a free caption phone based on your eligibility. Before researching each company, consider the history of caption phone availability - When Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, the government mandated that relay services be available nationwide giving people with hearing loss the same access to telephone use as others.

The invention of Text Telephone (TTY) and the enactment of the ADA directly contributed to the development of captioned phones, and the first one—CapTel—was introduced in 2003. You will see CapTel on the list below and seven others. Explore each one for more detail and what is required for each company:

  1. CapTel
  2. Captionate
  3. CaptionCall
  4. ClearCaptions
  5. Hamilton CapTel
  6. InnoCaption (free service for smartphones)
  7. Sprint CapTel
  8. Olelo

Step 3: Installing Your Caption Phone At Home

Now that you have selected the best company and have your caption phone it is time to install it. To do this, you can follow an easy process:

  1. Review the instructions when the phone is delivered for additional details
  2. Find the best location for your phone (near a power outlet, convenient location, and eye level)
  3. Connect the phone to the telephone line
  4. Connect the phone to a power source (outlet)
  5. Set your phone up with the right language
  6. Connect your phone to your WiFi
  7. Finish setting up the additional settings and features
  8. Register your phone (company-specific)

Once you take these steps, consider storing the following information nearby for troubleshooting needs:

My Telephone #:
My Telephone Company:
My Internet Service Provider:
My WiFi Name & Password:
My Captioned Phone Company:
My Captioned Phone's Serial #:

Step 4: Stay Connected and Active with Friends & Family

Once you have determined if you are eligible, selected your phone, and registered with your captioned telephone service, your loved one is now ready to talk with family and friends with ease.

Get started today!