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By Cheryl Heppner, 8/10/11

For years I’ve been badgering Robert Puzey, the Product Manager of Sorenson Communications, whenever I see him at the conferences I attend.  Sorenson exhibits usually focused on their video relay service, and I hoped to see them find a way that allowed me to speechread an individual re-voicing the words of the person at the other end of the call, with captions as backup when I couldn’t catch the words.

The current captioned telephone service is helpful for people who want to make calls using their own voices, but don’t have enough hearing to understand what the person on the other end of the call is saying. As the other person is speaking, the phone will display captions that you can read, word by word, on a screen. But in the 50 years since I lost my hearing I have come to value the cues I see on the face and in the body language of the person I am speaking with.  They give me important information such as whether the tone of the conversation is light-hearted, teasing, questioning, serious, or angry.

During the past few months I have been hearing from numerous individuals across the country who are deaf or hard of hearing about a new captioned telephone that Sorenson was quietly testing and rolling out, and it became apparent the company was targeting areas with a high concentration of people with hearing loss, particularly retirement communities and other locations where there are lots of seniors.  The early reports from these consumers were enthusiastic, so I was looking forward to seeing Rob at this convention, where I expected there would be an official product launch.

My guess was correct, and I wandered by the exhibit several times without stopping because it was always busy.  Finally I hit a time when it wasn’t completely mobbed.  Rob gave me a quick walk-through of the phone and explained some of the features that make it so cool. 

The phone works by using an internet-based service.  Its stylish look is striking. Its black screen displays what the person you’re talking with is saying in crisp white letters that are easy to read, and it has some innovative bells and whistles that consumers will enjoy immensely. You can adjust the size of the letters to your liking, set up one-touch dialing for frequently-called numbers (and caller ID photos) for up to 200 people.  The ringer and handset volume are adjustable.  If your hearing aid or cochlear implant has a telecoil, you’ll be pleased to know the phone has a loop.

In order to use this phone, you will need a high-speed Internet connection, a standard home phone connection, and an ordinary home electrical outlet.

Be aware that this phone may have a long waiting list in some areas.  The service is being rolled out with care in select areas to ensure that the call centers have enough qualified staff and technology to support the service is in place.

I hope we will soon have a phone to demonstrate at NVRC along with the growing number of other phone options we have in our technology demonstration room.

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