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This information is provided as a service to PSAPs & 911 call-takers to help correctly identify & respond to CapTel/VCO calls. Each PSAP should refer to its own standard operating procedure for VCO when responding to calls.
The Captioned Telephone ("CapTel") is a new telephone that allows deaf and hard of hearing people to receive both the voice and written captions of what the other party in a phone call says. The captions are supplied by a TRS service for all non-9-1-1 calls. The CapTel user uses their own voice to talk directly back to the other party.
When a CapTel user dials 9-1-1, the CapTel phone calls 9-1-1 directly (it does not route through the TRS service). This means the caller accesses 9-1-1 directly, but will not receive word-for-word captions. The CapTel phone also automatically converts into a Voice Carry Over (VCO) phone.
The call-taker needs to respond by following the same procedure used for handling VCO calls. Basically, the call-taker needs to communicate by typing messages to the CapTel user on a TTY, and then listening to the CapTel user talk back by voice. The call-taker’s typed TTY messages show up in the display of the CapTel phone. The CapTel user does not have a keyboard, so they cannot type TTY messages back to the call-taker. They can only use their voice to talk to the call-taker. Thus the conversation is half in text (TTY) and half in voice.
VCO call handling capability is currently required of all 9-1-1 PSAPs by the US Department of Justice and thus the CapTel phone operating in VCO mode does not represent a new requirement for 9-1-1 PSAPs which should already have existing standard operating procedures (SOP) to handle VCO calls.
The call-taker must be equipped with a TTY. The TTY should be set up so that switching between TTY and audio (voice) mode is easily done. Switching between TTY transmission and listening to voice from the caller must be done each time the conversation switches from the call-taker (who is typing on a TTY) to the caller (who is speaking over the telephone handset).
There are several thousand CapTel phones now in service in the USA. The FCC has recently approved CapTel as part of the Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS) which will cause the number of CapTel phones to increase substantially. Federal agencies have opted for CapTel service making CapTel available in every state. A substantial increase in the number of CapTel users, nationwide, is expected.
The following background information about CapTel is provided as a service to PSAPs.
What is CapTel?
CapTel is a combination voice and text telephone designed specifically for people with hearing loss. It looks and works just like a regular telephone, with one important difference: the telephone displays word-for-word captions of everything the other party says on a built-in display screen. Users can also hear the other party with whatever residual hearing they may have. They receive both the voice and written captions of the conversation.
For non-9-1-1 calls, the captions are provided by a telecommunications relay service (TRS), which listens in on the call and transcribes everything the other party says into written text. When a CapTel user places a call, their call is first routed through the TRS service, then connected to the end telephone number. Captioning assistants (CAs) at the TRS service use the very latest in voice-recognition technology to provide extremely accurate captions in near real time. Their participation is transparent to both parties in the conversation.
CapTel users typically fall into one or more of the following categories: 1. Senior citizens and persons with significant hearing loss. 2. Late deafened individuals accustomed to using the telephone. 3. Hearing aid and cochlear implant users of all ages. 4. Individuals who are deaf and have speech skills.
At this time, there are several thousand CapTel users in the United States. This number is expected to grow rapidly because CapTel has recently been approved by the FCC as an enhanced form of VCO which may now be included as part of the TRS relay system. Many states and federal agencies have recently contracted for CapTel service starting in early 2004.
How a CapTel phone makes calls to 9-1-1
In order to provide CapTel users with the most reliable and fastest possible access to 9-1-1 service, 9-1-1 calls dialed on a CapTel phone are not routed through the TRS captioning service, but instead go directly to the most appropriate PSAP just like any other telephone would place the call. This ensures that the CapTel user will receive the benefits of calling 9-1-1 directly, including the fastest possible access to the most appropriate PSAP, immediate telephone access to a 9-1-1 call-taker, and automatic number identification (ANI).
This means, however, that the CapTel user will not receive captions from the TRS service. Instead, as soon as 9-1-1 is dialed, the CapTel phone becomes a Voice Carry Over phone and the incoming call to 9-1-1 must be handled as a VCO call.
Basics of CapTel 9-1-1 Calls
In a CapTel 9-1-1 call, the CapTel user speaks directly to the 9-1-1 call-taker, but may not be able to hear what the call-taker says. The 9-1-1 call-taker must then type messages back to the CapTel user using a TTY (or TTY-equivalent device that transmits in Baudot code), then listen for a spoken response from the CapTel user. The CapTel user reads typed messages from the 9-1-1 call-taker, and then responds by speaking over their phone.
It is important to note that the CapTel user does not have a keyboard to type on. The only way the CapTel user can communicate to the 9-1-1 call-taker is to speak with their voice.
An incoming CapTel phone call requires that 9-1-1 call-takers correctly identify the call as a VCO call (not a TTY call). To handle the call, the 9-1-1 equipment must be capable of easily moving back and forth between TTY mode and audio (voice) mode.
How a 9-1-1 CapTel call progresses
When a CapTel user dials 9-1-1 on a CapTel phone, the following sequence of events takes place:
Each call center should have an established SOP for handling VCO calls. General guidelines for handling VCO calls include:
I. Identifying an incoming call as a VCO call
II. Establishing communication with the VCO user
Upon identification of the call as a VCO call, the call-taker should:
III. Communicating with a VCO User
|VCO User can:||VCO User cannot:|
|1. Talk directly to emergency service call-taker.||1. Hear what the call taker says over the phone.|
|2. Read any text messages that the emergency service call-taker types on a TTY.||2. Type messages back to the emergency service call taker.|
|3. Interrupt the emergency service call taker when text is being transmitted.|
U. S. Department of Justice. Americans with Disabilities Act: Access for 9-1-1 and Telephone Emergency Services. From http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/911ta.htm
TDD/TTY Accessibility Checklist for PSAPs. From http://www.nena.org/accessibility/psaptdd.htm.
U. S. Department of Justice. (1993). Title II Technical Assistance Manual. From http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/taman2.html.
U. S. Department of Justice. (1994). Title II Technical Assistance Manual 1994 Supplement. From http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/taman2up.html
Toni D. Dunne (1997) Acronym Soup. APCO Bulletin, January.
ADA Requirements DOJ technical assistance documents about TTY/VCO requirements www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/911ta.htm