The purpose of this document is to provide information and advice about telecommunications products and services that may benefit people with disabilities and older people. Such products include fixed landline telephones, mobile phones, textphones and accessories, each of which may have particularly useful features.
It also refers to the rapid technological advances within the telecommunications industry and how computers and the Internet may offer alternative solutions to using more conventional telephone and textphone equipment.
For up-to-date information on specific products and suppliers in Ireland, visit the ‘Products and Suppliers’ section of the Assist Ireland online database (www.assistireland.ie). The information in this resource can also be accessed using the telephone support service on 0761 079 200 during office hours.
The information contained in this information sheet is strictly for information purposes only. There are hazards with all equipment and the suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance before you consider buying any type of equipment mentioned in this information sheet.
SUPPLY, PROVISION AND ASSISTANCE WITH FUNDING
Some disabled or older people, especially those who are living alone or who have severe impairments, may be able to get help with the cost of installing a telephone line and with the cost of any equipment they may need.
If you have difficulty using a normal telephone, it is recommended that you contact an occupational therapist (OT). An OT is qualified to assess your daily living needs. The OT will advise on possible solutions and will arrange for the provision of suitable equipment to those who are eligible eg medical card holders.
You can contact the OT for your area through the Community Care section of your Health Services Executive area. Contact details for your local services are in your local area phone book.
Medical Card Holders
Equipment for people with disabilities, sometimes referred to as aids and appliances, is usually supplied free of charge to medical card holders. The card holder must first be assessed by the relevant therapist who can recommend and prescribe the most suitable equipment.
Long Term Illness Card Holders
People who have one of the conditions listed as qualifying under the Department of Health’s Long Term Illness Scheme may be eligible to receive items of equipment, essential for the primary condition, free of charge. Assessment by the relevant professional is required.
PRIVATE PURCHASE OF EQUIPMENT
Private purchase may be necessary if the user is not eligible to obtain the necessary equipment from the local area health services. Some people may also choose to buy privately because they want the wider choice of equipment available on the private market.
Private Purchase – Applying for a VAT Refund
VAT paid on certain equipment which is privately purchased for use by a person with a disability can be reclaimed from Revenue. This relief applies to VAT paid on the purchase of goods which are aids and appliances designed to assist a disabled person to overcome a disability in the performance of their daily functions. Most aids to daily living and communication aids are included. Goods designed for leisure purposes are not. An invoice clearly stating the VAT content of the total amount paid must be included with the application. Form VAT 61a is available from Revenue or can be downloaded from their website (see Useful Addresses).
Private Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists in private practice can carry out assessments in the home or workplace, and if modifications are being considered, provide a report detailing the recommendations. It is important to ensure the therapist is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Make sure to discuss fees before engaging anyone’s services, and also check what the assessment fee includes (or does not include). The profession’s representative body, the Association of Occupational Therapists in Ireland (AOTI), keeps a list of contact details of member occupational therapists working in private practice in Ireland. This list is available from the AOTI (see Useful Addresses).
Suppliers of equipment
Some companies will give equipment for a try-out period before purchase. Enquiries should be made about maintenance (if it will be required), maintenance contracts (if relevant) and whether a user manual is provided with the equipment (essential).
When purchasing from any supplier, it is important to remember that it is their business to sell. There may be several suppliers of that particular piece of equipment or different manufacturers of the same type of equipment, so always shop around.
It is also worthwhile looking at the wide range of telephones available in high street shops, because a number of useful features are incorporated as standard on some models.
EQUIPMENT FOR HEARING AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE
Eircom (see Useful Addresses) has a range of equipment and services for hearing and visually impaired people. These include amplifier phones, teleflash visual alert and restricted vision phones. There should be no charge for these if you are in receipt of the Telephone Allowance under the Department of Social and Family Affairs' Household Benefits Package, although equipment may be subject to availability.
SERVICES FOR HEARING IMPAIRED AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE
Free Directory Enquiries
If you are unable to use the phone book because of a visual impairment, you may be entitled to avail of Eircom’s free Directory Enquiry Service. It is available to people who are registered as vision impaired. To apply for this service, contact Eircom or your local National Council for the Blind of Ireland office for an application form (see Useful Addresses).
Eircom will provide visually-impaired customers with their bill in Braille if requested, at no additional charge.
To qualify for a Telephone Allowance under the Household Benefits Package, an individual must have an account in his or her own name with Eircom. The allowance covers the basic telephone line rental and an amount towards your calls in each two-monthly billing period. It does not, however, cover the installation charge for the telephone, telephone call charges in excess of the allowance, extra rental charges for extensions, or mobile phone charges. The allowance is paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs directly to Eircom and is shown as a credit on the individual's bill. The Telephone Allowance is also available to people aged 70 or over residing in nursing homes where they have their own telephone account.
Service for vulnerable customers
If you are a vulnerable customer because you have a disability or because you are older, it is advisable to let your telephone service provider know. If an engineer has to visit you, be sure to ask for his/her identity card before letting him/her into your home. The engineer should ensure that telephones are installed in accessible positions, demonstrate their features and, if requested, help to programme quick dial memories into the phone.
You may be able to join a priority fault repair scheme if you have certain impairments. The criteria for joining depends on the rules laid down by your service provider. If the fault turns out to be in telephone equipment not supplied by your telephone company a charge may be made for this service.
If you are worried that your telephone may be cut off - because you are going into a hospital, for example - some telephone companies operate a third party scheme which allows a nominated person to take full control of your account, or be contacted if you fail to pay a bill. You may have to register for this service. Contact your telephone service provider for more details.
Eircom’s Hot-lining Service
If you pick up your receiver and wait a few moments without dialling the phone will automatically ring through to a preset number ie the number of a friend or relative.
FEATURES OF TELEPHONES
With technological advances, an increasingly wide range of telephone products and services are available. Some useful features that you might find helpful on a telephone include:
Telephones with this feature display the telephone number of the person who is calling your telephone enabling you to decide whether you recognise the number or want to answer the call.
Telephones with this feature have a small display screen that shows numbers as they are dialled. This allows you to check you have dialled the correct number before trying to connect.
Telephones with this feature have a built-in microphone and loudspeaker to enable you to speak and listen to the caller without lifting the handset.
Inductive couplers are devices which are either built into the telephone, or a unit that can be attached to the handset which produces a signal that can be picked up by hearing aids that have a 'T'-switch.
Last number redial
Last number redial enables you to call back the telephone number last dialled at the press of one button.
A telephone with this feature enables you to store telephone numbers and recall them by pressing one or two buttons rather than having to remember the complete sequence of the phone number.
Enables you to dial a telephone number without having to lift the handset. This is useful if you have only the use of one hand as you can make a call through a series of steps rather than having to hold and dial at the same time. The handset needs to be picked up by the user when the call is answered.
A pulsator produces a vibrating sound when placed on the bone in front or behind the ear, which may assist some people to hear conversation.
Raised dot on '5'
Telephones with a raised dot on '5' enable someone to find his/her way around the keypad using the '5' as the centre of the keypad.
Ringer volume control
This feature enables the volume of the ringer to be adjusted.
Telephones with this feature have a built-in speech amplifier to make the caller's voice louder or quieter.
A fixing system (normally consisting of holes on the back of the telephone) to attach a telephone to the wall. Most fixed telephones and some cordless telephones have this feature.
TELEPHONES AND SERVICES FOR SOMEONE WITH A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT
Features that people may find useful on a telephone if they have a visual impairment are:
Large numerals and high colour contrast
Large numerals and high colour contrast between the numbers on the keypad and the background may assist people to see and locate buttons.
Larger spacing and larger buttons
Larger spacing and larger buttons may reduce the likelihood of someone misdialling a telephone number.
Enables frequently used numbers to be stored so that a complete telephone number need not be dialled each time.
Raised dot on '5'
Enables someone to locate the centre of the keypad, and helps orientation. If this option is not featured on a telephone of your choice, it may be possible to create a dot using products available from the NCBI (see Useful Addresses).
Enables the telephone to be positioned at eye level. A keypad situated on the handset also enables the keypad to be brought closer to eye level.
TELEPHONES FOR SOMEONE WITH IMPAIRED DEXTERITY
Features that people may find useful on a telephone if they have impaired dexterity are:
Enlarged keys with a concave/hollow shape
Help the user to press the correct key.
Hands-free telephones have a built-in microphone and loudspeaker that allows the user to hold a conversation without lifting the handset. However, this means that other people can hear the conversation.
Larger spacing and larger buttons
Larger spacing and larger buttons may reduce the likelihood of someone misdialling a telephone number.
Enables frequently used numbers to be stored so that a complete telephone number need not be dialled each time.
Enables the user to dial a number without lifting the handset. However, the handset needs to be picked up when the call is answered.
Automatic answering phone
For someone who has so little physical movement that he/she cannot pick up and operate a telephone at all, some phones will automatically answer an incoming call after a preset number of rings. The person calling in handles the entire management of the call. The disabled user is only required to speak and listen. The unit has a small clip-on microphone for the user to wear, and replies are heard through a built-in loudspeaker mounted in the unit. To prevent nuisance and unwanted calls, the person making the incoming call has to use a three-digit PIN before activating the automatic phone. Ideal Technology operates this privately operated service (see Useful Addresses).
Telephone conversation recorders
Telephone conversation recorders allow conversations to be recorded, which may be useful for people who are unable to make notes during a call.
Telephone holders and stands
These support the telephone handset so that the user does not have to pick up, replace or hold the receiver for any length of time. The support could be a shoulder rest to hold the telephone between the shoulder and ear, or a telephone stand to hold the handset with a lever to operate the receiver button.
A headset (similar to headphones) can be attached to the telephone and worn by the user. He/she presses a button to make or answer a telephone call so that the handset does not have to be lifted.
TELEPHONES FOR SOMEONE WITH A HEARING IMPAIRMENT
HEARING AID COMPATIBILITY
A telephone described as hearing aid compatible has an earpiece that produces an audio magnetic field. If you use a hearing aid with a T setting, you should get clearer sound if you switch to that position when you use the telephone.
PEOPLE WHO FIND IT DIFFICULT TO HEAR THE TELEPHONE RINGING
Telephones and units with ringing volume control
Some telephones have a ringing volume control which allow the volume of the ringer to be raised or lowered as necessary.
Add-on telephone bell units can be used with a standard telephone and enable the volume of the ringing tone to be increased. These are battery or mains powered and plug into a telephone socket - a double telephone socket will therefore be required.
Telephones and units with flashing ringing indicator
Telephones are available with a flashing light that flashes in time with the ringing of an incoming call. However, the size of the light is often small and the user may need to be near the telephone to notice the light flashing.
Add-on flashing lights are also available. These are usually mains powered and plug into a telephone socket - a double telephone socket will therefore be required.
Systems are available that make one or more of the lights flash in the house when the telephone rings. An electrician should always install these.
Before buying a telephone try out the ringers available as some people can hear one kind of ringer but not others. Some telephones have extra loud ringers and a ringer volume control.
For more information and advice on the different features and types of equipment available, contact the National Association for Deaf People (NAD) or the Irish Deaf Society (IDS) (see Useful Addresses).
TELEPHONES AND EQUIPMENT FOR PEOPLE WHO FIND IT DIFFICULT TO HEAR A TELEPHONE CONVERSATION
Inductive couplers are used when the hearing aid is switched to the 'T' position. They improve the clarity of the sound by cutting out background noise, but do not amplify sound. Telephones are available with an integral inductive coupler in the earpiece of the handset. Add-on couplers (small battery-operated devices that can be positioned inside, or strapped onto, the telephone handset) also are available.
Telephone earpieces and portable pulsators can help some people to hear a conversation. They operate by vibrating sound when they are placed on the bone in front or behind the ear.
Portable amplifiers are small battery-operated devices that attach to the telephone earpiece. They are used to amplify the volume of incoming speech but do not improve the clarity of sound unless they also incorporate an inductive coupler. They are suitable for people who do not use a hearing aid or for those who take their hearing aid off when they use the phone.
Telephones with two handsets
Telephones with two handsets are useful if you have a lip speaker to relay a conversation to you, or if you like to listen with both ears. Other options include buying a cheap second phone which can be plugged into the same socket with a socket doubler.
Textphones (sometimes known as Minicoms) may be used by a person with a hearing and/or speech impairment to communicate with someone who uses a telephone. Unlike other messaging systems, a textphone enables 'real time' communication.
A textphone can be used to communicate directly to other textphone users with compatible equipment using a standard telephone line. Once connected, the caller can type in the message that is transmitted to the receiver's display screen; messages can then be relayed back in the same manner. A textphone may also be used to connect with a voice phone using the National Relay Service from Eircom (see page 15.)
USEFUL FEATURES OF A TEXTPHONE
A textphone is a unit that connects with a standard telephone line and provides message communication via a keyboard and display. You can type what you want to say to the other person and you can also read what the person on the other end of the phone line is typing back to you.
Some textphones have two flexible acoustic couplers (rubber cups). Other models do not and they can be used as a telephone and textphone in one, this means that all members of the household can use the phone. A textphone can either be connected directly into a telephone socket or it can be used in conjunction with a telephone headset that is placed into the cups. Some useful features of textphones are:
Some textphones have a built-in answer machine that can record text messages when you are not there to take a call.
All textphones have a scrolling display which shows incoming and outgoing messages. The size and quality of the display varies. Fluorescent displays are large and bright. LCD screens are smaller but show more words on the display at one time.
Keyboards vary from one textphone to another. Some textphones have full sized typewriter style keyboards, others have small pressure keys.
A voice announcer is a pre-recorded message that can be played down the telephone line to tell a hearing caller that he/she needs to call through the National Relay Service or use a textphone.
Some textphones have special functions to make it easy to switch between text and voice during a call. This simplifies matters if you are deaf and prefer to use your voice to talk to hearing callers, but you need to have their replies typed back to you.
Some machines are fitted with a large text memory that enables conversations to be stored for future reference.
Built-in phone book
Some textphones have the ability to store names and telephone numbers.
Some textphones are fitted with an emergency service call button.
Connection to printer and computer equipment
Using additional equipment, some textphones may be connected to a printer and other computer equipment.
THE NATIONAL RELAY SERVICE
The National Relay Service is a free service for text telephone users and is available 24 hours a day. It provides facilities for the receipt and translation of voice messages into text and the conveyance of that text to the textphone of customers of any operator, and vice versa. You avail of the service by dialling the following freephone telephone numbers.
- Minicom user dialling a hearing person: 1800 207 900
- Minicom user dialling minicom user: 1800 207 800
- Minicom user dialling emergency services: 1800 207 999
STEP (SCHEME FOR TEXT TELEPHONE EQUALITY OF PAYMENT)
This is a scheme to give deaf people cost equality when using a text telephone. If you use a text telephone at home you can receive a rebate of up to 70% of the cost of phone calls on your bill. Details and application forms are available from the NAD and the IDS (see Useful Addresses).
Cordless telephones are available in high street shops. These phones may be useful for people who have problems moving around the home as the handset can operate independently from the base unit. Below are some factors you may wish to consider when choosing one:
- cordless telephones use radio waves - either analogue or digital to link the base unit and handset
- digital cordless phones offer a clearer sound than the older style analogue phones, and are less prone to interference
- digital cordless phones may cause audible interference with analogue, which could make them fiddly to operate
- hearing aid compatibility - if the caller uses a hearing aid in a 'T'-position, audible interference may occur if an analogue hearing aid is used near a digital cordless phone
- sound quality from a cordless telephone is not as good as from fixed telephones, although this may be affected when operating it next to other electrical equipment
- cordless telephones do not work in a power cut
- some models have more than one handset which can operate from one base unit
- cordless analogue telephones can be used with a hearing aid without interference, whereas, cordless digital telephones can cause severe interference
- some cordless digital models have a SMS (Short Message Service) feature, like mobile phones, enabling the user to text messages to similar cordless and mobile phones
Mobile telephones have been around since the early 1980s and use radio waves to communicate. The first phones available were analogue telephones. These were expensive, but hearing aid wearers were often able to use them. As mobile phones become smaller and cheaper, more people wanted to use them, and manufacturers began to look for ways of making them affordable for large numbers of people. This led to the development of digital rather than analogue mobile phones. Manufactures have also been researching into the aesthetics of the mobile phone and are looking at their design to try to make them more appealing. This has led to mobile phones being reduced in size, with the result that the size of buttons and text have also been reduced making the phones harder for some people to operate. Phones are also available in various colours, can have numerous ring tones, games, calculators, alarms clocks, and facilities to surf the web, send e-mails and faxes.
Nearly all mobile phones that are now available can send text messages using a short message service (SMS). Others have the facility to connect with the Internet using a system called Web Access Protocol (WAP).
To facilitate text messaging, many mobile phone displays have become slightly larger than on earlier models and, using the menu options on the phone, the size of the text can be made larger on some models, which may be useful for some partially sighted people. Nokia has developed mobile phone which has a built-in speech synthesiser, enabling blind and partially signed people to listen to text messages. A software package has also been developed which lets you send and receive text messages, view, add, edit and delete contacts, access lists and other phone features such as the clock, calculator and calendar through speech-assisted software – all usually inaccessible. Another phone produced by Nokia has been produced with a full 'Qwerty' keyboard, enabling text messages to be more easily composed and sent.
Features of mobile phones
- You can make and receive calls in most parts of the country and overseas. You will need to check that you are set-up for roaming before you travel overseas.
- Mobile phones can be very small and light to carry around.
- Mobile phones have a wide range of features and ringing tones.
- Most mobile phones offer a range of detachable outer cases, in a variety of colours, which can be used to improve colour contrasting.
- Some of the latest models have voice-activated functions, such as voice-activated dialling and voice-tagging internal phone book.
- SMS (Short Message System) text messaging enables text messages to be sent.
- Internet Access using WAP (Web Access Protocol) technology makes it possible to send emails.
Limitations of mobile phones
- Setting up and using a mobile phone is more complicated than fixed landline telephones.
- Voice-activated phones work on voice recognition - the user therefore has to read certain passages when setting up the option, which people with some disabilities may find difficult.
- Mobile phones can be fiddly to use and, because they are so small, can easily be dropped and damaged.
- Digital mobile phones can cause severe interference to analogue hearing aids.
- Mobile phones are powered by a re-chargeable battery, which needs to be connected to a mains charger unit from time to time. If you forget to charge your phone, it can be very inconvenient.
MOBILE PHONES FOR PEOPLE WITH A HEARING IMPAIRMENT
Hearing your mobile phone ring
If you have difficulty hearing your mobile phone ring you can set your phone to vibrate (most phones have this feature built-in). This makes the telephone vibrate when it receives an incoming call. If you phone does not have the vibrating feature built-in you can get a vibrating belt clip. This device is the size of small pager and works by picking up the radio signal from the telephone as it acknowledges the call. Vibrating belts can be bought from most mobile phone high street shops.
Hearing a conversation
To make it possible to use a digital mobile with a hearing aid, in most cases you will require an add-on device, such as a headset or neck loop.
Neck-loops plug into a digital mobile phone and are designed to work with almost any hearing aid that has a ‘T’-position. The device has a loop of plastic-covered wire to go around your neck and a control unit about half the size of a small matchbox, which can be worn round the neck or under clothes.
Using SMS messaging
Most mobile phones have the facility to send texts. This system, however, is one-way communication as each short message is an individual call and usually individually priced.
MOBILE PHONES FOR IMPAIRED DEXTERITY
As technology has improved, mobile phones have become smaller with the result that the buttons and the spaces between them have also become smaller making it more difficult for a lot of people to operate them.
Some mobiles are voice-activated, and will dial and answer by voice command. These phones can also have various features such as programmable memories, numerous ring tones, a vibratory alert, and fax and e-mail capabilities. A plug-in 'Qwerty' keyboard might make it easier to send SMS text messages. Technology is moving very fast. For more information on what features are currently available, drop into your local mobile phone retailer.
MOBILE PHONES FOR VISUAL IMPAIRMENT
As technology has improved, mobile phones have become smaller with the result that the buttons have also become smaller. However, since the introduction of text messaging, and other technological design changes, some features have improved. For example, the size of display screens has increased and some phones have an option to increase display font sizes, which may benefit some people with poor vision.
Most of the latest mobile phones also have a 'shortcut key' facility, which enables the user to access, at the press of a single button, regularly used phone numbers or feature access codes. Most phones also have a degree of voice activation, fitted as standard, enabling the user to identify phone book numbers audibly.
Dial talk is a portable keypad which can be used in conjunction with a telephone. Pressing the numbers on the keypad, which is announced when each number is entered, enters the telephone number. The telephone number may be recited once entered if required. The unit is then held next to the telephone handset, which then transmits the tones of the telephone number to call. Up to 10 numbers can be stored in the memory.
The fone flipper is a long plastic tab which is located over the receiver button. The lever can be flipped up and down as necessary using a hand or mouth stick to connect or disconnect calls.
FIXED CELLULAR TERMINAL
The fixed cellular terminal is an adapter which enables normal landline telephones to be connected to the mobile phone network at home or at any other fixed location. This means that larger, easy-to-use telephones can be used instead of smaller mobile phones.
COMPUTER ACCESS TO THE TELEPHONE NETWORK
If you are a computer user, it is possible to access the telephone network by using your PC. Most computers are fitted with a voice/fax/data modem and a sound card as standard features.
These features allow the user to send and receive faxes and, by connecting a headset with a built-in microphone to the sound card, make voice calls. Communications software, which comes free with most purchases, makes voice mail possible.
The internet provides a number of messaging services including emails and instant 'chat' services.
Screen reading software enables blind and partially sighted people to access computers. Alternative hardware, such as a roller-ball mouse, may help people with limited dexterity. Environmental control systems offer severely disabled people computer access and telephone access.
For more information on computer access technology solutions visit the AbilityNet UK website which gives advice on computing for people with disabilities and older people (see Useful Addresses).
Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI)
Ground Floor Office
Bow Bridge House
Tel: 01-633 7222
Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)(UK charity providing advice and information and a comprehensive up-to-date database of disability equipment available in the UK)
380-384 Harrow Road
Tel: 0044 207 289 6111
Ricability(independent research body in UK which produces guides for older and disabled consumers based on professional research)
30 Angel Gate
326 City Road
Tel: 0044 207 427 2460
Fax: 0044 207 427 2468
VAT (Unregistered) Repayments Section
Tel: 065-684 9000
LoCall: 1890 202 033
Fax: 065-684 9248
National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI)
Tel: 01-830 7033
LoCall: 1850 334 353
Fax: 01-830 7787
National Association for Deaf People in Ireland (NAD)
35 North Frederick Street
Tel: 01-872 3800
Minicom: 01-817 5777
Text: 01-878 3629
Videophone: 01-817 1400
Fax: 01-872 3816
Irish Deaf Society – The National Association of the Deaf (IDS)
30 Blessington Street
Tel: 01-860 1878
Minicom: 01-860 1910
Operator Services (FDQ)
Dame Court House, Dame Court
Tel: 1800 574 574
Ideal Technology (Dave Carthy)
4 Hilltown Way
Tel: 01-840 3345
Fax: 01-840 3345
PO Box 94
Tel/Text: 0044 800 269 545
Fax: 0044 1926 407425