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Telecoms open up for deaf people

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Services developed by UK organisations will help some hearing-impaired people to participate more fully in phone calls and meetings.

A Bedfordshire company will soon start two new services using Internet devices and voice recognition technology. And the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID) is launching the ScreenPhone. Both products turn voice calls or meetings into text and are aimed at deaf people who prefer to speak.

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The call is connected by a Typetalk operator so that the hard of hearing person is able to use their own voice but the other person's responses are typed and presented as text on the ScreenPhone's display. People who lose their hearing during adulthood often prefer to use their own voice for making phone calls. Until now, text phones have required the user to type what they want to say – something which some older people have found difficult. The ScreenPhone is made by Geemarc and has a large screen with adjustable font sizes.

Bedfordshire-based Teletec has announced two services that use an Internet device – a computer, PDA or smartphone – as well as a phone connection. WebCapTel connects two callers via an operator who then repeats the conversation into voice recognition software which then displays the whole thing as text on the deaf person's hardware. There will be a 3 or 4 second delay between a person speaking and the text appearing. WebCapTel needs an Internet and a phone connection. In this case the Teletec operator – or captioning assistant – listens to the meeting using a conference phone or even a mobile handset. The captioning assistants have to be specially trained to be able to listen and speak at the same time – a skill similar to that of a simultaneous translator. Both WebCapTel and Personal Communicating are expected to be launched early next year.

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