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New Assistive Tech: Real-Time Phone Captions

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

clear captions logo tied to the top of a van to demonstrate the on the go service

No matter what industry you work in, communications is often a key part of your job. If you’re a worker with a hearing loss, a new service launched this week might change the way you talk on the phone.

Purple Communications’ ClearCaptions is a free real-time phone captioning service that works on computers, smartphones and the iPhone/iTouch – basically any device with a good Internet connection and a screen. A deaf caller simply dials the person they’re trying to reach, and a Purple relay operator, known as a Communications Assistant, will provide behind-the-scenes translation of a conversation in real time.

This service is an exceptional example of how assistive technology is moving into the mainstream arena at a rapid pace and low cost. When a person with a disability doesn’t have to rely on custom-built or expensive technology to perform their job, it makes it easier for them to get on-boarded – and easier for an employer to help accommodate him or her.

Two features about this service make it an excellent alternative to using a relay service with a Teletype machine (TTY) or voice-over Internet Protocol platform (such as instant messaging). First, the call originates from the user’s own telephone, and unlike the stop-and-go pace of a traditional relay call, ClearCaptions allows for a seamless, crystal-clear conversation. The person on the other end of the line never even has to know that there’s a relay operator on the line!

The second great feature is that, because Purple is an accredited relay service by the Federal Communications Commission, all the calls are secure and considered confidential — just like a regular voice call, so you can use ClearCaptions at work and for private conversations.

This service is similar to Sprint’s WebCapTel, which debuted their online version of phone captions a couple of years ago. Both work very well, but ClearCaptions’ interface is easier to use, as the conversation flows vertically — more like an Instant Messaging service on your screen — as opposed to Sprint’s left-to-right format. Plus ClearCaptions has a free iPhone app to make calls easier.

With real-time transcripts now in place, and video calling through services like Skype taking off like wildfire, the next big thing for the hearing impaired community would be integration of all these technologies to allow for a completely “visual” calling experience. Until then, ClearCaptions is a great new assistive tech for the workplace: Plug-and-play, low cost, and performs a life-changing function for the deaf and hard of hearing community.