Gallaudet's Chapel Hall with U.S. Capitol dome in backgroundGallaudet's new logo with TAP wording below

CapTel to 9-1-1

Kevin Colwell

Vice President of Engineering

Ultratec, Inc.



Thank you for inviting me to be apart of this conference.  I am finding it fascinating and am delighted to be here.  I am Kevin Colwell, and I manage the technology development for Ultratec in Madison, Wisconsin. 


Many people think of us as a TTY company making TTYs and amplified phone products.  As we heard this morning, those kinds of technologies are evolving and changing, and it isn't really all or even a lot of what we do.  We actually do many other things.


Specifically, one of the things that Ultratec has done and continues to do is systems engineering for access and communication for services like TRS.  Also in the area of systems engineering, when ADA was implemented, and the rules for PSAPs and accessible 9-1-1 services were created, we worked with them to create access for text telephones to 9-1-1 services.  So that's another part of our service.


But today I am here to talk about a new technology that we have, a different technology, and we call it CapTel.  Specifically I am going to talk today about how we created a 9 1 1 access solution for CapTel.


For those of you who don't know what CapTel is, CapTel is a telephone-like technology that provides voice communication and, simultaneously, captions of what the other party is saying.  It's a little bit like voice carry-over (VCO), but it's different from VCO in that you get both voice and captions of what the other party says.


I will show you a one-minute video of what a CapTel call is and then we'll focus on how CapTel is different from other communication technologies.  How  we created a method for it to access emergency services, in particular. 9-1-1?  Then I will show you about a three-minute video clip on what happens when a CapTel user dials 9-1-1, and it shows what happens both at the CapTel user side, and at the 9-1-1 side.


As the slide says, "Caption telephone allows to you listen to the other party as well as receive captions of everything said."  Here is a slide on how CapTel works.  In the upper left-hand corner we have a CapTel user.  They've called the other party in the upper right-hand corner.  The CapTel user can speak directly to the other party using their own voice.  The other party speaks directly back to the CapTel user, and to the extent that they can hear and understand they can use the hearing they have to assist them with the communication.  But at the same time that the other party is speaking, the voice goes to a captioning service, and the service, using voice recognition, transcribes what they're saying into text or captions, and it sends those captions to the display of the CapTel phone.


The CapTel user, again, gets both the voice of the other party, and captions at the same time.  It's important to note that CapTel uses a human-assistant service; it is a little bit like TRS in that respect.  Since there is a service connecting the two parties, that impacts the 9-1-1 solution.  That's an important point.


Another important point is, who uses CapTel?  CapTel is used primarily by people who are profoundly deaf and able to speak, including late-deafened people, cochlear implant users, VCO and two-line VCO users, amplified phone users, people who are hard of hearing and who have difficulty understanding speech over the phone.  You can also use it as a regular phone without CapTel service.


CapTel is available now in about 35 states, and there are quite a number of people using it.  Less than half of everyone using CapTel has ever used VCO or a relay service before.  So it's really addressing a communication need to a different population, a different segment from traditional relay services.


I need to explain a little bit of technical background before we get into the 9-1-1 solution.  There are two ways that we can do CapTel.


First, we have one-line CapTel.  In one-line CapTel, a person picks up the CapTel phone, and they dial the other party, and it automatically goes through a captioning service first.  That's in the middle where the transcription is; the captioning service actually calls the other party.  In this case (one-line CapTel), there is a service agency similar to TRS in the middle of the call.  Because of that some of network functions don't work the same as they would if the call is direct.  When you put something between two elements in the network, sometimes network services don't work the same, for example, call waiting, automatic call back, and particularly accessing or dialing 9-1-1.  It doesn't work the same anymore because you've got this element in the middle.


The second way to do CapTel, we call two-line CapTel.  Remember in the first slide the one-line CapTel user picked up their phone and they dialed another party, and it contacted the CapTel center and the CapTel center used a second connection out to the other party.  So there were two phone lines involved, but the two phone lines were at the CapTel captioning service center.


With two-line CapTel, the user has two telephone lines.  Telephone lines are reasonably cost-effective today, so it's not uncommon for somebody who uses CapTel a lot to do it this way.  In the case of two-line CapTel, when you dial another party the call goes over the first connection directly from the first user to the second user.  It's exactly the same as any other phone call.  It's functionally the same in the network.


While the call is going through to the first party on one line, the CapTel phone adds the captioning service on the second line.  As the other party begins to speak, the voice of the other party comes from the first line back to the CapTel phone.  The CapTel phone forwards that speech to the captioning service via line two, and the captioning service brings back the captions for display.  In two-line CapTel, the service is actually laterally connected, and the service is not between the end users.  This is very important because now all of the normal network functions work for the user.  It's a direct network call.  That's particularly important for 9-1-1 because if you dial 9-1-1 it will call 9-1-1 directly.


Let me clarify about receiving calls.  With one-line CapTel, if somebody wants to call you, they have to know the number of the captioning service, and first call the captioning service, and then the captioning service calls you (as with relay services).  They provide your phone number to the captioning service and the captioning service calls you.  If they call you directly, you can receive the call, but you don't get captions on the call and you cannot add captions to the call. 


With two-line CapTel they can call you directly, and you can add captions as you need them.  You can add them or remove them as you wish. 

So there are advantages to two-line CapTel.  The user can call you directly.  They don't need to know that you are using the service.  They don't need to know any special 800 numbers.  Network services such as three-way calling and call waiting work.  Carrier of choice works.  Long distance plans are not affected.  They all work because it's a regular network call.  And if you dial 9-1-1 you are using the actual network, local network routing to reach 9-1-1. 


There are several things that are very different about CapTel than traditional TRS. 


First, in a CapTel call, the call setup is all automated.  The user dials directly the number they want to call on their phone and the system takes care of setting up the call. 


Second, the technology is different.  The call is transcribed using voice recognition technology. 


Third, and this is very different than TRS, in TRS the communication assistant, or CA, is there to facilitate communication, and they represent the TRS user, or VRS user in the case of VRS.  In contrast, with CapTel, the CA is anonymous and the service is anonymous.  The CapTel user may elect to tell the other party they're using CapTel.  They may not tell them they're using CapTel.  In the case of regular TRS, because the CA is representing the other party, if the hearing person is speaking and what they're say is not clear or too fast, or there is static on the line or whatever, the CA may say "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" Or, "One moment please" to slow the hearing person down.  In CapTel, the CapTel user is always in charge of the call.  So if there is an issue with the quality or the audio, the voice of the user, the CapTel service will caption "unclear," or "noise on the line," and then the user says, just as we would if we were not using CapTel, " I'm sorry, I didn't understand that, would you repeat?"  So there is a difference in dynamic in the way that people use CapTel.


When we created CapTel, we realized that we had some issues to deal with relative to 9-1-1.  So we had to engineer a solution for 9-1-1 for CapTel.


What happens when a CapTel user dials 9-1-1? 


One problem was -- and you heard this discussed this morning, there were great presentations on this -- we need to get this call to the right PSAP, and we had to figure out a way to deal with that.


Number two, we had a new technology that PSAPs and 9-1-1 did not have any experience with, and we had to find a way that they could understand how to communicate with this kind of technology.


Number three, we had an issue that people with hearing impairments were communicating with 9-1-1 call-takers, and we wanted to be sure that they could continue to effectively communicate.


So we set out to find a solution for these problems. 


Our process was as follows:  The first thing that we did was to look at the FCC requirements.  The FCC, as was covered in this morning’s presentation, said the call should go directly to the correct PSAP.  We contacted NENA, the National Emergency Number Association, and we talked to their accessibility committee.  They have a wonderful committee that helps with this kind of thing.  They recommend the call go directly to the right PSAP.


And then we looked at the experiences that TRS had in effectively doing 9-1-1 calls, and trying to handle them outside of the (caller’s home) area.


We came up with a list of design objectives.  We need to get the user the right PSAP.  The PSAP has to receive the ANI (automatic number identification) and ALI (automatic location identification) signaling.  The PSAP should be able to communicate with the user, and the user needs to understand what's happening in the call.  They need enough call information to understand.


So then we reviewed all of this with NENA's Accessibility Committee and said, "Here is what we recommend.  What do you think?"


And here is how the solution we came up with works.  When a user on a one-line CapTel phone dials 9-1-1, it doesn't go through the captioning center.  It goes directly to the 9-1-1 call center.  It essentially routes directly knowing that the number is an emergency service number. 

Because the call goes directly to 9-1-1, it gets to the correct 9-1-1 center, and they get the right signaling.  To facilitate communication we converted from CapTel mode to VCO mode because all 9-1-1 centers are required to support TTYs and VCO, and they already have equipment to do that.  So the call goes directly to 9-1-1.  It gets to the right PSAP.  It gets ANI and ALI and they know who to call back.  That's a question that came up – calling back is important in 9-1-1 call handling.


We automatically (without user intervention) convert the CapTel phone to a VCO phone so that the 9-1-1 center can communicate using their existing procedures and equipment. 


We also realized that it was very important to educate users as to what would happen if they call 9-1-1 and how to do the call.  Our user guide indicates how to make a 9-1-1 call.  We have video guides that help them understand how to make a 9-1-1 call.  Many people that get CapTel phones get them from training sessions.  We go over 9-1-1 in those training sessions.  And we also do presentations like this one at trade shows for organizations like Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People, or the Association of Late Deafened Adults.


We also have to educate the 9-1-1 people about this new technology.  We worked with NENA on that.  We've done presentations at the NENA conference, and each time CapTel technology goes into a new state we contact the state 9-1-1 coordinator and brief them on the new technology.  We provide them with an information packet and video explaining the technology and how to respond using the existing equipment at their facilities.  In a typical state, I want to you understand the scale of this, on a typical new state that gets CapTel, we might send out between 100-300 sets of these instruction guides. 


So having been through all of that, I think that we're ready to see what it looks like.  Here is a clip now that shows what happens when you dial 9-1-1. 



That's how it works for one-line.  In two-line CapTel, recall that the call goes directly from the CapTel phone to the other party.  So two-line CapTel calls 9-1-1 directly, and you get true captions from the captioning service on the second line. 


So how well does it work?  Well, here is a comment from a user.  Somebody mentioned reverse 9-1-1 this morning.  This is a comment, and it says, "Our community has a rolling automated calling system for emergencies.  I received a call telling me to boil water because it was not safe to drink.  Without CapTel I would not have been able to understand a word."  So two-line CapTel works even in the reverse mode. 


For additional information, here is our contact information:  (insert from slide)


Gregg Vanderheiden:  Questions for Kevin?  The front and then in the back. 


Audience member:  When you call 9-1-1 and using voice carry over, can you hear the operator, the 9-1-1 person, talking to you?  Or is it only that you see the text? 


Kevin Colwell:   With two-line you can both listen and read the text.  You can talk even while the text is coming in.  With one-line, you cannot.  Because the technology that exists today at the 9-1-1 center, VCO technology, doesn't let you do them both simultaneously.  We help the users with this by actually putting information on the screen of the CapTel phone saying, "Okay to talk.  Do not talk." This is to help them to understand that when text is there and they should not talk.  Between text you can hear the 9-1-1 person, if you have residual hearing you can understand or get information from it.  So you can elect, if you prefer, to just talk to the party and use your residual hearing to continue the call or go through the call using VCO.  You don't have to rely on text or VCO if you don't want to. 


David Poehlman:  I am here on behalf of the Maryland Technology Assistance Program.  I have a couple of technical points I would like to raise with you regarding the device itself.  Through long years of experience and research, we have discovered that blind people cannot see red lights.  So we'd like to possibly have this issue addressed in terms of being able to fully interact with the device.  And now you might be wondering why would I care?  The device produces print.  I don't read print.  But the device could just as easily produce Braille, or the device could be used with a piece of technology which is probably the best piece of technology for transmitting print to the fingertips of a person without the aid of eyes ever devised -- called the Opticon.  And I can see a person using a Opticon with a CapTel who has a hearing loss, and who has very little or no vision to read the captions, and also hear the voice, and also read the voice carry over in the situation where 9-1-1 would be required.

       So the red light becomes important, and the instructions on the screen become important, and the instructions in the video to press the button beside the message also become important because if I don't know where the message is, then I don't know where the button is.  Press the button to the left of the message would probably be more adequately described as, you know, there is a button in the upper right-hand corner of the display portion of the front of the phone.  That would be the button that would you press.  So these are just a couple of points I thought that I would raise having had my first real detailed description, and a very good one I want to emphasize, of CapTel and what it does.  Thank you very much.


Kevin Colwell:  I thank you for the comments.  We'll certainly take those back.  I want to indicate that there is a new version of the CapTel phone that's in test and trial now specifically for people with vision impairments.  It has a USB port on it, and it drives a large display, large computer display.  The user has control of font size, color, type, and also the menuing is all done up on the screen as well.  In addition, we provided USBs so that it can be connected to Braille devices, and we're actually in test now with those kind of functions.  We expect the product to be out before the end of the year.


Brenda Kelly Frey, Maryland Relay.  Welcome.  Nice presentation.

We have CapTel in Maryland for people who have understandable speech and cannot hear, but our people tend to be using the one-line CapTel version because of the expense of the second line.  The one-line CapTel is -- it's just as great as sliced bread.  The two-line CapTel is just as good as sliced bread with peanut butter and jelly on it.  So they would love to be able to access the two-line CapTel.  Is there any effort in any states nationwide to get the second line at a reduced fee, or is that something that Ultratec is looking into?  Is that something that individual states should fight for?  Because CapTel is really the way to go. 


Kevin Colwell:  Thank you, Brenda.  Some states have already support for two-line VCO users to get reduced price on a second line.  And generally that's happened at the state level.  I know of two so far. 


Gregg Vanderheiden:  Thank you.  One final question here.  So if I understand right, you are saying the CapTel, the new version that you are doing, could actually support individuals who have speech, of course, but who are otherwise Deaf-Blind, severely hearing impaired and vision impaired -- and a Braille display would be possible?


Kevin Colwell:  Right, Gregg.  And the strategy was, rather than attempt just to make a large display, to put a USB port on the device so that we can get it into a computer and then use screen-reading software, Braille software, Braille output devices, whatever technology works for the user off of that PC environment. 


Gregg Vanderheiden:  Well, that's very good news because, again this, is a population that often gets left behind.  So it's nice to see them on the forefront of this new technology.  Thank you very much. 


Kevin Colwell:  Thank you. 



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