If your family and friends are getting tired of hearing “What?!” every time they speak with you on the phone, the government may be your newest ally. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and under Title IV, individuals who are D/deaf or hard of hearing are to be given Telecommunications Relay Services. Such services include telephones with amplified sound, closed- captioned answering machines, and signalers that light up when receiving a call. While texting and other forms of written telecommunication have become increasingly popular, the designation of these services originated in an attempt to bring direct communication to the masses, regardless of hearing- related disabilities.
While this law acts at the national level, state governments are also doing their part in providing telephone services to those who wear hearing aids or are D/deaf.
Illinois Telecommunications Access Corporation (ITAC)
Since 1988, ITAC has been providing equipment either for loan or at a discounted rate. All you need is a working landline or cable service, proof of residency in Illinois, and an application signed by your doctor or audiologist. ITAC operates as a non-profit and acts as the intermediary between the residents and the phone companies, so if you live in Illinois and wish to experience a better connection over the phone, they are there for you.
Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (KCDHH)
Kentucky legislation, passed in 1980, expects all telephone companies to provide their customers not only with a Text Telephone (TTY), but also requires them to provide their services to these customers at a discounted price. Residents of this state can turn to KCDHH. Their application also requires doctor verification, proof of residence, and a valid telephone or internet service. However, their equipment is free and only offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so be sure to sign up!
California Telephone Access Program (CTAP)
In 1979, California legislation was enacted to establish a program to provide telecommunication devices to those in need. CTAP was created in order to provide free equipment to those who have documented hearing-related issues. A simple question you may be asking is how these states can afford to provide such high-tech equipment for free. In California, this program is funded by all residents with a phone bill. Residents can look to their bill to find a small surcharge listed as “CA Relay Service and Communications Devices Fun,” so if you are a beneficiary of this program, thank your neighbors!
Maryland Accessible Telecommunications Program (MAT)
The MAT program starts you off by evaluating your needs and finding the solution that best suites you. What is different about this program from other states’ is that you must be on a fixed income. While this limits the users of this program, it still helps those who have the greatest need. This program provides a wide variety of solutions, including bed shakers to alert of a phone call you when you sleep, Braille TTYs, and picture phones, so hopefully there is the perfect solution for you.
With all these great resources out there provided at little to no cost, speaking to and hearing your friends and family on the telephone should no longer be an issue with your hearing aid!
Check to see what services are offered in your home state and let us know in the comments!
By: Diana Michel
National Association of the Deaf
Illinois Telecommunications Access
Kentucky Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing
California Telecommunications Program