From the telegraph to rotary phones to landlines, email and texting, our methods of communication have evolved a great deal over the decades. These changes have been vital for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Just ask Greg Gantt, who has experienced the impact of these technological advancements firsthand not only as a person born deaf but as a decades-long professional advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Assistance Toward Independence
Gantt is currently the community outreach director for Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation (InTRAC), a not-for-profit corporation established in 1991 by Indiana state law for the purpose of providing Relay Indiana, a free telecommunications relay service for Hoosier citizens who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. This service allows users with assistive telecommunication devices to communicate with standard telephone users through specially-trained operators who relay the conversation. (All of this is made possible through a contractual partnership between InTRAC and T-Mobile.)
Relay Indiana essentially allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have what resembles a “traditional” phone call. As the video commercial on its site states, “People with hearing loss can experience the same ease, speed and confidence as telephone callers everywhere.”
As Gantt explained in more detail: “Deaf users use a TTY (teletypewriter) to type their messages to the relay operator who in turn repeats them by voice to the other hearing party. Vice versa, the other hearing party speaks by voice to the relay operator who then types their messages to the deaf user. Hard of hearing users usually use a CapTel (captioned telephone), which has an LCD screen on the phone to display captions through an Internet connection. When the other hearing party speaks, the relay operator re-voices the words simultaneously while the operator’s voice-recognition device sends the conversation to the CapTel user in the form of text that appears on the CapTel screen.”
Deaf users who can and prefer to use their own voice are able to do so through the CapTel’s enhanced voice recognition technology.
These services allow people in the deaf community to live more independently.
“Before texting and smartphones, we had to rely on interpreters or family and friends to communicate for us,” Gantt said. “This made our deafness very pronounced, very noticeable. But with texting and advanced phone technology in general, people don’t know that I’m deaf if I’m walking along texting somebody or if I’m using my phone just as anybody else would.”
Spreading the Word About Relay Services
As its most recent annual report shows, InTRAC goes to great lengths to raise awareness of its services throughout Indiana. From 2020 to 2021, it hosted more than 60 virtual events. And the organization contacted more than 7,900 people at 42 in-person events across 18 cities, which included conferences, trade shows, expos and town hall meetings, among others.
As the community outreach director, Gantt is often involved in these events, serving as the liaison between InTRAC and the deaf community. Fortunately, he has Hoosier legends helping him cheer on the organization.
InTRAC’s Relay Indiana is often promoted on the jumbotron at Indianapolis Indians games and frequently getting shout-outs on WISH-TV from longtime broadcast personality — and CapTel user — Patty Spitler.
As someone with Meniere’s disease — an inner-ear disorder that causes hearing loss — Spitler is an outspoken advocate for organizations like InTRAC, and she has appeared in many advertisements for it over the years.
“Before (Relay Indiana and the CapTel), we were often isolated,” she said of deaf people in a recent Great Day TV segment. “This gives us a voice and a way to communicate.”
InTRAC’s Acts of Generosity
Like INDATA, InTRAC has an equipment loan program, and if the equipment’s accompanying instructions aren’t clear enough for borrowers, they can turn to INDATA along with many other local agencies for training.
If a person is an Indiana resident who is deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired with an annual household income below $74,000, they may qualify for a free phone from Relay Indiana. The organization also offers highly discounted CapTel phones for those who do not qualify.
All in all, these services and phones make a massive difference in the lives of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As Gantt said, “Among other things, relay services have helped deaf consumers with getting jobs that require phone work, especially in the wake of COVID and the increase in remote working. Before these services were available, they would not have been considered for phone jobs because of the inability to make and/or receive calls.”
For more information about how to best take advantage of the exciting opportunities this organization offers, visit relayindiana.com/relay-indiana/helpful-hints/.