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Free Government Captel Phones for the Hearing Impaired

Updated on February 10, 2013


The captel, or captioned telephone, provides a much needed service for the hearing impaired community. Typically a trained human translator serves as an intermediary between two parties participating in a telephone call. The translator listens to the conversation and converts voice into text in real-time. Captioned telephone hardware, by design receives the converted text from the translator. The text appears on a large display on one or both telephones. Along with voice-to-text translation services, the federal government and many states have set up programs to distribute hardware, education, and access to relay networks. Herein we present more important information centering around this altruistic application of modern technology.

The Federal Relay Program

The General Services Agency (GSA) of the United States government established the Federal Relay program for the purpose of increasing and improving telecommunications access to government employees who might be deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or have speech disabilities. Federal Relay translation services are available to:

  • Current or retired military and civilian federal employees
  • Veterans
  • US Tribal Members
  • Authorized federal contractors
  • Anyone contacting a federal agency to request information

The service is available in US (United States) English 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available in Spanish from 8AM to midnight 7 days a week. Captioned Telephone hardware is available from Sprint and other vendors, but Sprint may be giving away up to 50 free phones a month to qualified Federal Relay users. The phones retail for $495, but that price may change.

Free Captel Phones from Washington

The state of Washington offers free or reduced price captel phones and service. They also provide amplified phones, tty devices, remote-control speaker phones, VCO telephones, and large visual displays. Eligibility to participate in the program is based soley on age, disability status, and residency status. Household income is used to calculate costs to the participants. The program is called "TED", or Telecommunication Equipment Distribution. The program is funded by a tax on landline subscribers in the state.

Telecommunication Relay Services from Oregon

Oregon offers captel hardware on a permanent loan basis to residents. The devices are available through the Oregon Public Utilities Commission program titled "Telecommunication Devices Access Program" (TDAP). Qualifications include:

  • Residency of the state of Oregon
  • Deaf / hard of hearing / hearing-impaired, speech-impaired, deaf-blind, or mobility-impaired
  • Unable to communicate effectively on the phone without the use of specialized equipment
  • Have phone service in the household.

The Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service, or OTRS, provides full telephone accessibility to hard of hearing and deaf residents. The state makes available trained Communication Assistants who stay on the phone line and provide translation services. Services are free of charge and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no restriction on length of call or method of call (calling card, collect call, etc.). Spanish relay services are also available.

Relay Utah

Relay Utah is a telecommunications relay service provided by the State of Utah to its' residents. The program is subsidized by a small tax on landline subscribers. The program distributes captel hardware and provides translation services. As one of the oldest relay programs in the United States, it handles over 30,000 calls a year. Qualifications include participation in some type of public assistance program such as:

• Aid to Families with Dependent Children
• Emergency Work Program
• Food Stamps
• General Assistance
• Home Energy Assistance Target Program
• Medical Assistance
• Refugee Assistance, and
• Supplemental Security Income.

Participants must also meet the definition of 'impairment', such as being deaf, deaf-blind, severely hearing impaired or severely speech impaired.

Montana Relay

Administered by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, The Montana Telecommunications Access Program (MTAP) provides phone equipment and also operates Montana Relay translation services. Among other types of calls, Montana Relay supports calls to '900' lines, answering machine message retrieval, Spanish Language, and ASCII computer calls.

Here are the eligibility requirements:

  • Hearing, Mobility, or Speech Disabled
  • A resident of Montana
  • Demonstrate the ability to understand the nature and use of the equipment for the purpose of sending or receiving messages through the telephone system.
  • Earn less than 250 percent of the Federal Poverty level for the current year.

Montana Relay Income Level Requirements

Persons in Household
Federal Poverty Guideline
MTAP Annual Income Qualifications (250% of Federal)

All information is believed to be accurate at the time of publication. Check with vendors, state agencies, and regulatory commissions for more details.

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