The Issue

Ensuring Americans with hearing loss can use caption phones

FCC Considering Changes That Could Limit Access to Caption Phone Services

Advocates for Americans with hearing loss launched a new coalition—Clear2Connect—to ensure that federal regulators don’t take steps that could limit access or availability of a service that thousands of seniors, veterans and people with disabilities rely on every day.

A photo of a CapTel caption phone.People with hearing loss use special phones like this CapTel device to read captions when the other party speaks.

Caption phone services, or IP CTS, let people with hearing loss speak during a call and then read captions on a specialized device when the other party responds. Roughly 500,000 Americans currently rely on this service, which works on a special phone or via an app on some wireless phones.

Americans with hearing loss can use this service for free. The Federal Communications Commission runs a program that pays for this captioning service, using a small fee that Americans pay as part of their phone bills, thanks to a provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What is a caption phone, or IP CTS, service?

IP CTS is a phone service that allows people with hearing loss to read captions on a specialized phone or app when the other person on the line responds. Cutting-edge speech recognition technology, along with skilled transcribers, is used to provide this live service. And users get real-time, accurate transcriptions of conversations on their phones, which can be vitally important when users speak with health care providers, emergency responders and others.

How does the caption phone service work?

This graphic shows how caption phone calls are routed through a center so captions can be added.

When someone with hearing loss picks up a special phone (or uses an app offered by an official IP CTS provider) to make a call, it is automatically routed through a call center. There, an operator uses advanced technology to provide accurate captioning of everything the other party says and sends the text back to the person’s phone (or app). This real-time service allows Americans with hearing loss to carry on conversations easily and ensure they understand what the other party is saying.

Why is the FCC considering changes to the program?

The FCC is worried about the growing size and popularity of the program. The total number of IP CTS minutes has grown substantially over the past few years. While the service is free to Americans with hearing loss, it is funded via a small charge on consumer phone bills. Some FCC officials are concerned that consumers who don’t need the service are using it instead of less expensive alternatives, such as amplified phones.

Why are more people now using these services?

The FCC is considering how to curb use of this required ADA service because the fund size is growing, due to the fact that the population with hearing loss is growing as is the number of consumers using the service. As more Baby Boomers age, there has been an increase in the number of Americans with hearing loss.

The FCC is currently considering changes to the program to stifle its growth which could make it harder for Americans with hearing loss to use this service.

There are now an estimated 72 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., who range from 55 years old to 73 years old. They still represent the largest number of American adults. Roughly half of people ages 50-59 have hearing loss—and that percentage jumps to 68 percent for people ages 60-69, according to the CDC.

There has also been an increase in the number of veterans who report experiencing hearing loss. According to the CDC, at least 60 percent of military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—about 600,000 veterans—suffer permanent hearing loss or tinnitus. It is the fastest-growing of all postwar disabilities, more than doubling over the past decade.

What is Clear2Connect?

Clear2Connect is an organization of advocates, providers and interest organizations which believe that it’s vitally important to preserve access to these services. We are working to educate Americans with hearing loss about this issue and provide a unified voice before Congress and others to urge the FCC to preserve access to these services.

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