Why Internet is Essential for the Hard of Hearing

No Internet When You’re Hard of Hearing
For those with hearing loss, access to the internet is essential. Getty Images

This past week, we moved to a new apartment and I found myself without high-speed internet — no DSL or Wi-Fi connection at home — for 10 (long) days.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of how vitally important the internet is for people with hearing loss. I did have a smartphone, so I was not completely cut off from communication, but it was very limited. Here’s what no home internet meant for me:

No captioned telephone. I hear on the phone, but not well. Even using the telecoil setting on my hearing aid does not make the speaker’s voice completely clear. Captioned telephones depend on DSL or Wi-Fi for the captioning part of the call, which appears on the screen of your special phone. Two of the major manufacturers of these captioned phones are CapTel and CaptionCall. They are available free of charge to people who can provide proof of their hearing loss, and oftentimes their representative will come to your home to set it up. But you do need a high-speed internet connection.

For captions on cellphones, a company called Innocaption has been developing a system to provide simultaneous voice and captioning. It’s still got some kinks to work out, but when it works, it’s terrific. Unfortunately, at least on my phone (an iPhone 5S) and with my carrier (Verizon), I cannot get voice and captions at the same time unless I have DSL or Wi-Fi. (Innocaption, which has very responsive consumer support, confirmed this in an email: “Unfortunately, Verizon supports voice and data at the same time from iPhone 6, not iPhone 5/5s.”) I need that connection to Wi-Fi.

This is a problem anywhere outdoors, but I live in a big city, and without captions my cellphone is close to useless on the street. This is because electromagnetic interference produces a buzz in telecoil mode that drowns out talk. I guess I need to spring for a new iPhone.

I did have Ava. Ava is a voice recognition system used for in-person conversations. Two or more people sign on to the app on their smartphones. Their voices are simultaneously captioned on each user’s phone, color-coded by speaker. Ava is still in the testing stage, but you can download it here. The version I was using required Wi-Fi, but the newest version, which I downloaded (free) today, no longer requires Wi-Fi. I had a nice conversation with someone in the dog park. I could understand him over the yapping dogs because he was talking into my Ava-equipped phone.

Email was difficult. I’m a voluminous emailer, not only because I’m hard of hearing, but also because of the work I do both professionally and as a volunteer. The volume of mail I receive gets lost on the small screen of a smartphone. For those of us with hearing loss, email tends to be a lifeline for communicating with others. I did email on my smartphone (using satellite technology rather than Wi-Fi). But once I had Wi-Fi again and went back through the emails on my computer, I saw I’d missed quite a few. Also, no matter what size phone screen you have, it’s still pretty small.

Sherry Turkle‘s 2011 book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, prompted consternation about the “death of conversation” due to an over-dependence on technology.

But for those of us with hearing loss, technology is sometimes the only way we can communicate. In a restaurant we may be looking at our smartphones, but that’s because we’re getting captioning from a program like Ava telling us what the speaker across the table is saying. At the theater we may be looking at a smartphone, but that’s because we’re lucky enough to be at a performance with I-Captions or Globetitles.

Texting and emailing are conversation for people with hearing loss. I was surprised by how handicapped I felt without high-speed internet. I lived two-thirds of my life before the internet came along, so you’d think I’d know how to manage for a week or so. I wasn’t as hard of hearing then, it’s true. But also, once you’ve enjoyed the advantages that Wi-Fi and DSL offer those with hearing loss, it’s really hard to give them up.

This post first appeared on AARP Health on 10/18/2016.

Living Better jpeg

Katherine Bouton is the author of “Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends … and Hearing Aids,” and a memoir, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You”. Both available on Amazon.com.

14 thoughts on “Why Internet is Essential for the Hard of Hearing

  1. Captioning and/or CART is the best accommodation for people with hearing loss. If only it was available when I attended The Ohio State University in 1955. I use to sign up for 25 hours and then drop the class if I could not understand the professor. Usually it was a foreign professor whose lips I could not speech read nor understand the words when they spoke. I did graduate in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science. Hearing aids did not have the programs that are now available. The best advantage was not being enrolled in a school for the Deaf as a youngster and having the advantage of living in New York City attending The League for the Hard of Hearing.


    • CART is fantastic. But it doesn’t work when you’re trying to get someone on the phone or through email. I’ve written about CART many times. I think it’s by far the most useful for the most people of all the technologies. I can’t imagine getting a B.S. without CART!


  2. Katherine, Could CapTel operate (captions & Voice) for hard of hearing persons by being hooked up to high-speed internet only instead of to landline (Voice only) telephones? Richard Herring


      • It would be possible to use a VOIP solution for the landline, or an adapter that uses your cellphone’s Bluetooth connection for voice calls. But I think keeping a landline phone is a good idea for emergency purposes as the phone will still work even if the power is out.


      • Richard had asked:

        “Could CapTel operate (captions & Voice) for hard of hearing persons by being hooked up to high-speed internet only instead of to landline (Voice only) telephones?” You had responded by saying you thought landline service was required.

        I had then pointed out that VOIP solutions could work (for the voice line). VOIP aka VoIP is an acronym for Voice over IP. Most Internet service providers are providing telephone services over the Internet that aren’t using landline services, but adapters are required. I used to use Vonage as my voice line. Ooma does too. Both provide voice telephone services over the Internet and could plug into a captioned phone.

        There a special phone that could work with a digital phone system and connect directly to the Internet and voice to provide the functionality of a captioned phone. But to answer Richard’s question directly, I don’t think there are or will be captioned phones yet that can simply connect to the Internet. The relay services are funded by universal fees levied on the voice line, so the relay services would undermine their own funding if they enabled customers to bypass having a voice line altogether.


  3. I can recall hours on the phone in what seemed to be endless conversations. I remember conversations in real time that lasted hours. Such things are impossible for me now. Email, texting, blogging and voice recognition software now give me real access. In all this, the internet is essential. It has become no less a utility than water, gas and electricity. Thank you Katherine for bringing this to our attention.


  4. By the way, Katherine – You probably know this but in case you don’t – your iPhone has a feature called “Personal Hot Spot” that lets you use your phone’s 4G connection to get your laptop, for instance, on-line. I know this works with an Apple device. I don’t know if it works with a PC device.


  5. Katherine – Thank you for another excellent post. Like you, I am heavily reliant upon email for work and with graduate studies. For me personally, texting is one of the best technologies for keeping in contact with friends and family. I also use Sprint web-based captioning for phone calls, which has been useful with professional and personal conversations. On another note, I just blogged about another side of hearing loss—the mental health impact—at http://LipreadingMom.com. Thank you for your support and advocacy.


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