From: Heidi L. Reed, Commissioner, MCDHH
Date: September 20, 2006
Re: S2645 MCDHH recommendation to Senate Ways & Means Committee

This proposed legislation would improve the MA TDD/TTY Relay Service by adding an enhanced voice carryover service and enabling this service to be obtained from an out of state provider. An enhanced voice carry over service combines the functionality of a telephone with simultaneous captioning of the called party's conversation. The proposed new bill impacts M.G.L. C.166 §.15E, which ensures that telephone services are accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and disabled in accordance with state and federal law. Currently, the law requires operation of a Relay Service, distribution of equipment, and an advisory committee on deaf, hard of hearing, and disabled persons' access to telephone service. The existing law requires that the MA Relay Service be provided from in-state, and specifies equipment to be distributed.

MCDHH favors the intent of this legislation, but it is unknown if this may impact the current surcharge on telephone bills. Enhanced voice carryover service is an effective, responsive, and more functionally equal means of obtaining mandated telephone access. CapTel, a brand name for "enhanced voice carry over service" is only available from an out-of-state provider in the Midwest.

Currently, 38 states already have CapTel services, and a 39 th state has just obtained legislative approval to begin offering voice carry over service as part of their Relay Service. Amending the existing law will enable the Relay Service to expedite telephone access with the more effective technology that is now available.

There is no voice carry over service provider in Massachusetts and requiring the provision of voice carryover service from inside the state would be inefficient and cost prohibitive.

Users in other states have noted a range of benefits from captioned telephone service:

  • Small business owners who are Deaf or hard of hearing will more effectively initiate and receive customer service related telephone calls.

  • Captioned telephones will assist deaf and hard of hearing persons in entering and remaining in the workforce through more efficient access to the telephone.

  • Captioned telephone will reduce employer need to revise job tasks when employing staff who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Captioned telephone will assist deaf and hard of hearing persons in communicating with emergency services.

  • Captioned telephone services reduce isolation and promote well being by enabling deaf and hard of hearing persons to speak and read through the phone with near simultaneous exchange of conversation, rather than typing and reading. This benefit is especially important for persons who have limited dexterity and difficulty typing.

  • The proposed bill would improve and update telephone access for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and disabled and live, work, conduct business, and use services in all economic, educational, healthcare, and social environments. In particular, this bill would impact clients and service providers affiliated with the Disability and Community Services Cluster and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.