For those who have difficulty hearing or speaking, using the telephone can be a frustrating task. In Pennsylvania, free services are available to assist people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have difficulty speaking.
The services are provided by Hamilton Relay®, a telecommunications service provider who has contracted with the state to provide the following specialized services:
- TTY: the caller types messages and reads the other individual’s responses.
- VCO (Voice Carry Over): the caller speaks directly to the individual who is being called, and reads his/her responses.
- HCO (Hearing Carry Over): the caller types messages to the individual who is being called, but listens directly to his/her responses.
- STS (Speech-to-Speech): a communication assistant who is trained to recognize the speech patterns of a variety of people who have trouble being understood facilitates calls
- Spanish: a bilingual communication assistant facilitates calls. Spanish and English translations are available if both people on the call are in Pennsylvania.
- Captioned Telephone (CapTel®): An individual with who has difficulty hearing over the phone can listen to the other person’s responses while also reading them on the screen of a CapTel phone.
- DBS (Deaf-Blind Service): The relay user types his/her message to the person being called and a communication assistant types the person’s responses which appear on a braille display.
- Voice: A standard phone user can use relay service to reach an individual who uses any of the services listed above.
Specific instructions about how each of these services work are available on the website www.PARelay.net. All calls are confidential, and in situations where a communication assistant is involved, there are specific regulations to govern the role of the assistant. Two examples of these regulations are that the communication assistant must relay the conversation verbatim, and that the assistant is not allowed to participate in the conversation aside from making sure that the standard phone user understands how the service works.
Relay services are provided free of charge to users, and are funded by telephone surcharges on the service of all Pennsylvania residents. Usual long distance fees may still apply. There are also fees for any specialized equipment which is required for service, unless an individual qualifies for free equipment through the Pennsylvania Telecommunications Device Distribution Program (TDDP). For more information about this program visit www.disabilities.temple.edu/programs/assistive/tddp.
United Cerebral Palsy Central PA also offers a program called Changing Hands, which provides refurbished home medical equipment and assistive technology devices to individuals who cannot otherwise obtain the equipment needed to maximize their daily functioning. For additional information about available equipment or to donate equipment, visit www.changinghandscentralpa.org.
Apps are available for these services to be used on smartphones and tablets.
The local outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Captioned Telephone Relay Service can help answer additional questions which you may have regarding these services. Her telephone number is 717-255-0240, or her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a loved one who has difficulty hearing or speaking who may benefit from assistance with telephone calls, give them the priceless gift of easier communication this holiday season!
Karen Kaslow, RN
Hamilton Relay is a registered trademark of Nedelco, Inc. d/b/a Hamilton Telecommunications. CapTel is a registered trademark of Ultratec, Inc.
Looking for additional resources for your loved one? Visit www.mypeaceguide.com.