Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sprint WebCapTel: Have You Tried It Yet?

I learned about Sprint's free WebCapTel service at a recent hearing loss support group meeting. As I tend to avoid telephone calls as much as possible, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to hear a caller's voice and access a captioned version of what the caller said on my PC.

I had never tried a relay service before. Instead I've relied upon turning my telephone volume all the way up which I'm sure is not good for my ears. It's been a long time since I enjoyed a nice relaxing chat on the phone.

The Sprint representatives at the meeting suggested trying out the service by calling someone "safe". So I started by calling my husband. I was amused when at first the captioner came back with [speaker unclear]. Yes, that's been my experience too! I felt validated. After that first "speech bump", the rest of our brief conversation went fine. There seemed to be a three second delay between the finish of what he said and the start of the captioning. Not bad.

Then I tried calling my friend, Linda. She is someone I have missed talking to by phone. Before my hearing loss was identified, we used to have hours long conversations to the delight of the long distance companies. She admitted that she'd avoided calling me knowing how difficult it is for me now. We did pretty well using WebCapTel. Lately we've been instant messaging each other so we were used to having a delay between our replies. We got quite a few chuckles out of the captioning mistakes. The captioner prints what he/she heard and then analyzes it. If he/she comes up with a better answer, it prints those words in brackets like this: ... woman irking at the library [working].
My third call was to my mom. We had trouble getting the timing to work for us. I think if she could have seen the captioning as it appeared on my screen, it might have gone better. When I called my sister next, I made sure to keep her informed of where the captioning was at. To her credit she made a huge effort to speak slowly and clearly and the captioning was very accurate as a result. But it seemed to me as if this was perhaps too much to ask of someone. It felt intrusive and awkward conversing this way.

As a hard of hearing resident of Illinois, I'm eligible to receive a free captioned telephone for my home. It will caption all the outgoing calls I make. It will caption incoming calls that are directed through a relay service. Sprint also offers a $99 telephone model that will caption both incoming and outgoing calls automatically. I think that is the one I would like to eventually purchase. For now, I am going to keep using WebCapTel until my family, friends, and I are more comfortable with captioned phone service.

What are your thoughts on WebCapTel?
Note: This blog post has been edited since it was originally posted. A reader commented that the service works through human captioners not voice recognition software. I have edited the post to reflect that. If I had known it was a human captioning the call, I wouldn't have laughed at the captioning mistakes. My apologies.

I've just been corrected once again by a reader. The system uses both a human captioner and voice recognition software. See the comments section for more details.


notquitelikebeethoven said...

I discovered Web CapTel and Mobile CapTel about 6 months ago when I lived in the States. For me, as a European, it was an almost religious experience. The easyness of it (no particular hardware needed), the cost for us (none?! even when you're calling from a cell phone???!!!!), 24/7 and even in Spanish! We have nothing like it here, not even close, and my guess would be we probably won't for a long time.

I seem to have had less trouble sync'ing our conversation to the transcription but I noted significant differences between interpreters. Also it took me some time to adjust to the feeling that there were three of us, that someone was listening in. And on top of it, that that someone had to repeat each and every single word we said, whispered love or shouted curse.

Anonymous said...

FYI: WebCapTel or regular CapTel does not use voice recognition software. They use an actual live person to type out everything that is said.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks for adding the link to your blog post on Web CapTel. I hope that Europe will try this service soon.

Note: For other readers who would like to check out NQLB's post, you can copy the text and use Google Translator to get the general idea of what he wrote in German.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Anonymous,
I wrote that Web CapTel uses voice recognition software because that is what the Sprint representatives told us at the meeting. I will try and verify that on their website.
Thanks for your comment.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Dear Anonymous,
I checked the Sprint website and you are correct. It says "Skilled human captioners are fully trained to caption your calls as quickly, accurately, and privately as possible. All calls are kept secure and confidential."

And as NQLB noted, " Captions are provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, and from 7am to 11pm Central Time, 7 days a week in Spanish."

notquitelikebeethoven said...

You are both correct. I had a lenghty conversation with them some months ago: It's a person repeating whatever you say and a speech-to-text system automatically converting what this person says. Because the system is trained to this specific voice it works quite well. And the person checks it again, and perhaps inserts remarks in brackets.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks for the clarification, NQLB.

Anonymous said...

Its me again. Thanks NQLB for clarifying that there is a voice recognition software in use by the skilled human captioners. :) Now I see why the brackets were being used in conversations.

I don't mean to trail off the point of the blog but another thing people should know is that 711 operators are based in U.S., and operators from online relay sites could either be based in U.S. or other countries. I was told that online relay companies favor Philippines as operators due to low costs and strong English skills.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Anonymous,
I don't mind your comment. I left the topic pretty wide open with my question, "What are your thoughts on WebCapTel?"
Do you think having English speaking operators from other countries than America makes a difference to the quality of the captioning?

mogrenewed said...

No Captel in Canada either. We have the same here as in the UK, a relay service that needs a special phone for the deaf person to be able to read out the typed words. In both countries you have to wait for an operator to be available. The cost of the call is discounted too.

The calls do take longer and it is odd having someone listen in, you get used to that but the conversation doesn't flow. You have to say GO AHEAD to let the operator know you have finished talking and to start typing the response. Sometimes the person calling speaks too quickly for the operator.

I think having people whose first language isn't English might make an improvement in the quality of the spelling.

Roselil said...

OK, I like everything CapTel - I have a 200i at home - and I occasionally use WebCapTel. However, I've taken to using www.nextalk.net for everything at work. I find this to be very good for conference calls, which CapTel or WebCapTel doesn't easily provide. (I dare not even try!) I can use VCO (Voice Carry Over) on nextalk.net. Nah, Nextalk is not on the web, but is downloadable. I guess in a pinch, WebCapTel is a great tool.

PinkLAM said...

I tried Sprint WebCapTel a year and a half ago at the AG Bell convention, loved it, registered, and then never used it again. I didn't want to have to explain to my friends why I was calling from (or they had to call me through) a different number. I may give it another try, but my phone skills have been improving a lot with my newer implant, so we'll see.

The reason your post caught my eye is because we're actually going to try using it in the classroom. To make a long story short, I'd been having some trouble hearing in school and would have to go to a different school in order to get CART (or C-Print). Rather than do that, the audiologist who is working as the district's audiologist came up with the idea of having my teachers wear 2 Smartlink FMs (one for me to hear through) and the other to connect via Bluetooth to a cellphone, then have that phone call any phone number. The captioner captions like they would in a phone call, and voila! the captions appear on the laptop.

I haven't yet tried it in the actual classroom, and when I did try it with this set up there were a few technical difficulties and kinks we had to work out first. Hopefully, it will eventually work!

So much for making a long story short :P

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Mog,
Thanks for commenting on what the situation is like in the UK and Canada. That would be a pain having to wait until an operator is available. For a casual call, I would prefer sending a text message to a friend in that situation.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Roselil,
Welcome to my blog. Thanks for the info on www.nexttalk.com. I will have to check that out.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi PinkLAM,
What an interesting idea to use WebCapTel in the classroom. I hope you'll post on your blog how that works out. That brings a question to my mind...Is there any time limit on how long a phone call can be?
I would love to have the phone calls I receive at the reference desk be captioned! I was trying to figure out how that might work but I've been stumped on that one. I only work two shifts at the desk during the week so it probably isn't worth the bother for the library for me to explore this for now.
I'm glad to hear you are doing well with using the telephone with your implants!
You also make a good point about the phone number being different and having to inform your friends and family of that fact. I think that is another factor for me in adjusting to using this service.
Thanks again for your comment!

notquitelikebeethoven said...

In June they told me there is no limit on the length of the calls. If necessary they switch captioners and try to do that w/o interrupting the flow of your conversation.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

That's good to know, nqlb. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am alarmed to see that someone is using WebCapTel in a classroom environment. This is illegal practice and abuse of the system. The FCC does not permit any forms of relay calls to be made to another person in the same room. ADA requires all schools public or private to provide CART in the classroom; the school is essentially cheating out CART and using WebCapTel for free.

PinkLAM said...

I never even thought about if there was a time limit. Glad you brought it up, and thanks for clearing it all up NQLB. I will write about it if/when it ever comes to pass.

Anon- I wondered this myself, and it really doesn't surprise me to find out that it's illegal. Quite frankly, at this point, if the school district would rather break the law than pay for me to have equal access without CART, that's their problem. We've had to jump through hoops and go around in circles just to get captioning provided on videos, so you can imagine what it's like trying to get CART.

Which begs the question- why are captioned telephone calls free, yet it's so costly to get a real-time captioning in the classroom?
Makes you wonder...


billcreswell said...

Seems to me it would be easier to get the teachers to train their voices on ViaVoice or Dragon, which can be had for less that $100.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

This has been a very interesting discussion. Thanks, Bill for your suggestions for a solution to the captioning in the classroom problem. It sounds as if PinkLam is having trouble getting the accomodations she needs at her school. Perhaps the staff there are unfamiliar with the options available.

PinkLAM said...

Thanks for all of the input. Look out for a blog once this stuff has been tried out..
Bill- that was suggested, they said they tried it out with other d/hh kids and it didn't work out so well. Apparently it takes a long time for the software to be trained to understand the teacher's voice, if I remember correctly.

SpeakUp Librarian- They're aware of most of the technology, but they say I have to be making absolutely no progress to qualify for it. They say they know I'm having to put in a lot more effort than my peers to make the grades I'm making, but claim that's irrelevant according to the Special Ed laws. Even if I did qualify, they would make me change to a school with a D/HH program.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi PinkLam,
I don't know what to say. I was trying to give your teachers the benefit of the doubt but from what you say the situation seems worse than I thought. It seems unfair that your success is a factor against your receiving accomodations. I just don't get it. Please let me know on your blog how this works out. I'm pulling for you!

funnyoldlife said...

I'm helping TAG with the campaign to get WebCapTel back in the UK (more information is on my blog on the Telephone Campaign page). I used it for a couple of years when I worked for Hearing Concern. It is fabulous and I am profoundly deaf, I can't hear on the phone at all, but it worked very well for me. In fact, I ended up having the highest phone bill in the office :)

It is free in the US because something like 0.6% is automatically deducted from every US resident's phone bill and this goes into a fund for CapTel, along with government funding.

I've been helping with demonstrating Captel to the public and each time, because the UK have lost the facility, we have to set up a phone line to Captel in the US. So we have a little problem with the accent sometimes but mostly it is fine.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks for that information, Funny Old Life. I hope your campaign's a success!