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.