National Association of the Deaf

Captioned Telephone Service (CTS)



A captioned telephone is a special telephone that has a built-in screen to display in text (captions) everything the other person on the call says. Captioned telephones called CapTel phones are manufactured by Ultratec.

When an outgoing call is placed using a CapTel phone, the call is connected automatically to a Captioned Telephone Service (CTS). The CTS communications assistant, a specially trained operator, hears the person you want to talk to. The CA repeats or re-voices what that person says and speech recognition technology automatically transcribes the CA’s voice into text (captions) which is displayed on the captioned telephone.

CTS appeals to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or late-deafened (such as senior citizens) who communicate by speaking, who want to hear what the other person is saying as much as possible, but who may have difficulty understanding everything the other person says. CTS appeals to a segment of the population whose needs are not met by TTYs or computer devices, or by relay services that rely on typing or American Sign Language to communicate. The majority of people who use CTS have said that this service is far more effective for them than using a TTY with Voice Carry Over (VCO) relay service.

To get captions displayed on incoming calls (calls you receive) depends on whether the CapTel phone is used in 1-Line mode or 2-Line mode. With 1-Line CapTel phone, the person calling you must first dial the toll free CTS number and then enter your telephone number. With 2-Line CapTel phones, the person calling you can dial your telephone number. To get captions using a 2-Line CapTel, you press the caption button on your CapTel phone at any time during the conversation.

Captioned telephones and CTS are not available in every state. Some states have limits on the number of new CTS users they accept per month. The cost of CTS for in-state calls is paid for by state relay service programs. The cost of CTS for interstate calls is reimbursed from the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund.

In 2005, the NAD, along with other consumer advocacy groups, filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the FCC to require CTS nationwide. In 2007, the FCC issued a ruling in which it noted its intention to “address whether captioned telephone service (including IP CTS) should be a mandatory form of TRS in a separate proceeding.”1 However, the FCC has not re-visited this issue – despite having received hundreds of supporting comments from the public urging a nationwide mandate for CTS. As a result, CTS remains the only widely used (non-Internet-based) relay service needed to achieve functional equivalency that is not mandated. The NAD has renewed and ongoing efforts to require CTS in every state nationwide.

For more information about CapTel phones and available CTS, see http://www.captionedtelephone.com/.

  1. In the Matter of Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, Declaratory Ruling, CG Docket No. 03-123, FCC 06-182 (January 11, 2007) (IP Captioned Telephone Declaratory Ruling).

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