Court modifies FCC regulations for Captioned Telephone Services
Individuals with hearing loss won an important legal battle toward receiving captioned hearing telephone service at no charge, thanks to a June court decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision nullified all Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations in the January 2013 order because the court said the FCC failed to follow due process. The decision also reversed two other FCC rules put in place in August 2013 which required individuals demonstrate eligibility by paying a $75 user fee for captioned telephone services and requiring the equipment be delivered with captioning defaulted “off.”
CaptionCall, a company which provides telephones with captioning capabilities to individuals with hearing loss, challenged the FCC’s regulations in court. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) supported Caption Call’s action and filed a friend-of-the-court brief.
"Since its inception in 2010, CaptionCall has advocated giving access to its phone at no cost, ensuring that all those who need the service get it, regardless of their ability to pay," says Bruce Peterson, CaptionCall Senior Director of Marketing. "CaptionCall is committed to empowering consumers with hearing loss to communicate by phone with the functional equivalency of a hearing person."
Captioned telephone service is only available to individuals with hearing loss and is supported by the federal government’s Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service fund. This fund was established to provide functionally equivalent communications to people with hearing loss as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Individuals with hearing loss must provide a certification from a qualified professional, such as an audiologist or ENT, or self-certify they have a medically recognized hearing loss which necessitates the use of captioned telephone service in order to receive the service free of charge. High speed internet and a land line telephone are required to use the service; there is no charge for delivery, installation or ongoing customer support.
How do caption telephones work?
Caption telephone service displays written captions of conversations on specialized telephones with large screens, much like captioning on televisions. When the individual with hearing loss (the user) presses the caption service button to place a call, they are connected to a communications assistant who converts the caller’s words to text using voice recognition technology. That message is sent back to the user in the form of captions which are displayed on their telephone screen.
When the caller answers a call placed by a caption telephone user, they will hear “Hello. This is the relay service…” which signals they are about to have a conversation with an individual who has a hearing or speech disability. All TRS providers must offer mandatory minimums standards established by the FCC; conversations are secure, encrypted, FCC-regulated transcriptions.
What is Telecommunications Relay Services?
President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The landmark legislation provided access and opportunity to individuals with disabilities in the areas of education, employment, tax policy, transportation and assistive technology.
One of the major initiatives was providing comprehensive Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) to individuals with hearing and speech disabilities. In addition to Captioned Telephone Service, there are several other forms of TRS available: Text-to-voice TTY-based TRS, Voice Carry Over, Hearing Carry Over, Speech-to-Speech (STS) Relay Service, Shared Non-English Language Relay Service, IP Captioned Telephone Service, Internet Protocol (IP) Relay Service, and Video Relay Service.
TRS is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories for local and long distance calls. TRS providers are compensated for their services by the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service fund. There is no cost to the TRS user. Those without Captioned Telephone Service can dial 711 to access certain other TRS services anywhere in the United States.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 36 million Americans report some degree of hearing loss. According to the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association (ASHA), 80 percent of those who are diagnosed with hearing loss do not seek help.
"CaptionCall is pleased with the court's ruling and looks forward to working with the FCC to continue to provide access to this empowering communication technology for those with hearing loss," Peterson says. "This is their right as mandated through the Americans with Disabilities Act. We intend to make it a reality for all those entitled to it."