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					        Communication Choices
        For deaf or hard of hearing people

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, everyday communication can be a
challenge. However, whether it is chatting to family, friends and work
colleagues, or carrying out routine transactions with banks, shops
and other businesses, we all need to communicate without barriers.

According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, around 9
million people in the UK are either deaf or hard of hearing. Modern
technology can help anyone with a hearing impairment communicate
more easily.

Research shows, however, that many people do not take advantage
of the services available. This BT guide can help you find out more
about the products and services that can be of assistance.

We hope that you find the information useful and feel encouraged to
try some of the options that are new to you, or share this information
with others who may benefit.

Additional detail can be found on BT’s dedicated website,

If you have suggestions for future updates of this guide, please let us
know via the ‘Contact BT ’ link on the website.

We would like to thank Ofcom, TAG and the RNID for their assistance
in the production of this guide.
3-9   Communicating via telephone landlines
      3  Standard telephones
      4  Textphones
      7  SMS – texting over a landline

9-10 Communicating via mobile telephone services
     9   Standard voice calls and textphone calls
     10 Text messaging (SMS) and real-time text messaging

11-14 Communicating via the internet
     11 Connectivity, email and Instant Messaging
     12 TalkByText and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
     13 Webcams and sign over broadband

15    References and further contacts
Communicating via telephone landlines
Standard telephones

Using a telephone may be frustrating for someone who is hard of
hearing. The two main difficulties are hearing speech on the phone
and hearing the phone ring. Modern landline telephones have many
features that can make them more usable for the hard of hearing.

Hearing speech on the telephone
Speech amplification means many people with mild to moderate
hearing loss are still able to use standard telephones. It is often
operated by a button on the handset marked ‘volume’, with options to
increase and decrease the level as required.

Some telephones are fitted with an inductive coupler that may
improve the sound if your hearing aid has a telecoil, known as a ‘T ’
setting. Look for handsets that say they have an inductive coupler or
are ‘Hearing aid compatible’.

Hearing aid compatible products may also display this logo on the

It is worth remembering that telecoils are prone to electromagnetic
interference from computers, mobile phones and electric motors. If a
hearing aid has a telecoil fitted, it will only work when the hearing aid
is switched to the ‘T ’.

By using a headset to one ear in addition to the telephone handset to
the other, you can listen to incoming sounds with both ears at once.
This is also possible using the hands-free option to listen via the
loudspeaker. See for a range of headsets.

Hearing the telephone ring
If you sometimes miss the telephone ringing because of a hearing
problem, an additional loud ringer or a sensory alert might be useful.
Loud ringers have louder and more audible alerts and simply plug
into a spare phone socket, or two- way adapter.

Sensory alert devices may flash or vibrate to help indicate an event,
such as the phone or doorbell ringing. See for a
range of accessories and for BT’s selection of telephones designed
for the hard of hearing.

You can try out products to make sure they suit your individual needs
at one of BT’s Try Before You Buy Centres. See for more information and Centre locations.

Quick Q&A - What should I consider when buying a telephone?
There are a number of potentially useful features available on
telephones. Some, such as visual call alert and ringer amplification or
tone choices, help you know when someone is calling.

Others, such as caller display and message indicator, help you know
who and when someone is calling. Adjustable volume and
speakerphone – or hands-free – may help hearing.

More information

BT has a range of booklets that can be downloaded from including:
   Communication Solutions: BT’s booklet of advice and
     information for people who find communication more difficult.
   Connections: BT’s guide to hearing better on the telephone.

If your hearing loss is more severe it doesn’t mean you have to stop
using the phone. One option is a textphone. This allows callers to use
the written word rather than speech, by means of an alpha-numeric
keyboard and screen, to have a real time conversation.
If the person you are calling also has a textphone then you can
communicate directly just by dialling their number, but there are still
advantages to using the Text Relay service. (See below.)

If you want to call someone that uses a standard telephone – maybe
your hairdresser – then using the Text Relay service means that the
text relay operator can provide a voice to text translation service.

Textphones can be used over a landline or mobile connection (See
‘Communicating via mobile telephone services’).

A variety of textphones are available, with some being suitable for
use in a mixed ability household as they have an integral handset,
while others can be connected to a standard telephone. Textphone
prices vary, so shop around before you make a final selection.

How do I use a textphone?
Textphone users can make calls using the Text Relay service, which
is funded by BT. This service provides a variety of prefixes to dial
before the number you are calling to enable the telephone system to
know you are making a text call. The prefixes also facilitate the relay
service and provide reduced textphone call costs.

The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether
your call involves a text relay assistant or not. When a text relay
assistant does join the call it will be completely confidential and they
will not take part in the call. The service can convert text-to-voice or
voice-to-text as required and a text relay assistant will relay each
side’s conversation.

For more information, visit or phone (text prefix
18001) 0800 7311 888.

The prefixes are as follows:
18001 – If you use a textphone and want to call either a textphone or
a voice phone.
You dial the person you wish to speak to, including 18001 before their
telephone number. The text relay assistant joins the call if your call is
answered by a standard telephone. You type your side of the
conversation and read the replies on your screen. The person
receiving the call will hear your typed words read out by the relay
assistant and reply verbally, with their words being typed by the relay
assistant for you to read.

If your call is answered by another textphone then the relay assistant
is not needed and will not join the call. Your conversation will be all in
text, displayed on the screens of the textphones.

Using the Text Relay prefix of 18001 in front of the full national
number also means that the text part of the call will receive a rebate.

18002 – If you use a voice phone and want to call a textphone.

You dial the person you wish to speak to, including 18002 before their
number. The text relay assistant will join the call unless it is answered
by a standard telephone. The textphone user receiving the call will
see your words on their screen as they are typed by the text relay
assistant. The textphone user will type a reply, which is read to you
by the text relay assistant.

18000 – If you use a textphone and need to call the emergency

You dial 18000 without adding 999. The call is treated as a priority
call and automatically connected to a text relay assistant and the 999

Text Relay Direct

With Text Relay Direct you prefix the number you want to call with
180015. Some people are uncomfortable with the presence of the
relay operator, even though they never participate in the
conversation. Text Relay Direct ensures that the relay assistant never
joins the call even if it is answered by a standard telephone.
Text Relay Assist – textphone users
If you are unfamiliar with Text Relay and would like more assistance
you can use Text Relay Assist. It works the same way as Text Relay
except that you initially call the Text Relay Assist operator on 0870
240 95 98 and they will dial the person you wish to speak to.

Text Relay Assist – voice callers
Text Relay Assist offers voice callers additional assistance when
using Text Relay. Call the Text Relay Assist operator on 0870 240 51
52 and they will dial the person you wish to speak to.

Call Return 1471
Textphone users can dial 18001 1471 to display the number that last
called them via Text Relay and the time of the call. They can type 3 to
automatically return this call.

Quick Q&A – What are textphone rebates?

When using a textphone your call is likely to take longer than the
same call that’s made by voice. So, BT ensures that customers using
Text Relay are not disadvantaged. The text part of a Text Relay call
will automatically receive a rebate on the bill. The rebate does not
apply to the spoken part of a conversation, or to certain numbers,
such as premium rate lines.

If you have a telephone service from another communications
provider, contact them to find out their policy for rebates on textphone

See also the Quick Q&A – What is BT Broadband Talk?

SMS – texting over a landline

You can send and receive text messages (SMS) on a UK landline
with a compatible phone. This can be between landlines, or between
landline and mobile phones.
BT Text is BT’s landline SMS service. If you are with another provider
you may wish to check with them if they offer a similar service.

To use BT Text you need a BT phone line, Caller Display
(subscription required) and an SMS-enabled phone. No registration is
needed as it is set up when you send your first text message. If you
do not subscribe to BT’s Caller Display service, incoming text
messages will be delivered as voice messages.

Messages cost 10p each to send (excluding premium rate services)
but you can get inclusive texts each month with selected BT Calling
Plans, making it cheaper to keep in touch.

More information

Full details of the BT Text service can be found at

Quick Q&A - How do I get Caller Display?

Caller Display shows you the number of the person calling, so you
can decide whether to pick up the phone or leave it to your answering

Simply add the Caller Display option to your BT service. You can do
this online by logging into ‘Your Account’ on the ‘At Home’ section of or contact our customer services on 0800 800 150. There
may be additional charges for Caller Display.

Caller Display is inclusive for customers on BT Privacy, a scheme to
reduce unwanted sales calls.
Communicating via mobile telephone services
Today, the vast majority of people use a mobile telephone. All mobile
phones are now digital and many work with digital hearing aids.
Check with your mobile provider if you have any queries.

Mobile phones can cause interference with older analogue hearing
aids. Even digital hearing aids and mobile phones can pick up
interference from electromagnetic devices. Unfortunately trial and
error is really the only way to be sure that the phone you use will work
with your hearing aid.

Standard voice calls
Increasing the speaker volume, or using hands-free so the sound
comes out of a speaker, may be helpful. As with a landline, if your
hearing aid has a ‘T ’setting, selecting this should enhance the call if
you have a compatible mobile, or an additional ear or neck loop.

An ear or neck loop – sometimes called a ‘T-Link ’ – plugged into
your mobile phone allows you to keep your phone away from the
hearing aid to reduce interference.

They also have an inductive coupler included, so you can use the ‘T ’
setting to cut out background noise. Contact your mobile phone
manufacturer or online retailers to find out more.

Textphone calls

Calling from textphone to mobile is possible, if your mobile network is
open to the Text Relay prefix, using the standard 18001 prefix with
the Text Relay assistant relaying the call. You can call from a mobile
to a textphone via Text Relay’s chargeable Text Relay Assist service
on 0870 240 51 52.

Some textphones can be used with a mobile phone by using a lead
that is plugged into the mobile phone’s charging socket.
See the Textphones section on page 6 for more details.

Text Messaging (SMS): Short message service (SMS) is the proper
name for text messaging, or texting. Texting is extremely popular and
is most commonly done between mobile telephones, though some
landline telephones can also text.

However, texting is not the same as a real-time conversation and,
while some phones can provide delivery confirmation, there is no
certainty that the message has been read.

You can send and receive text messages (SMS) between mobiles on
the same service provider or between different providers. See your
service provider for price details.

Real-time text messaging
Some mobile telephones have the capacity for real-time text
conversations with the addition of other software applications, such
as the RNID’s TalkbyText Mobile Edition.

You need to have a mobile internet connection to use this service as
TalkByText Mobile Edition uses your phone’s internet connection to
turn your handset into a mobile textphone. See for details.

Quick Q&A - What should I consider when buying a
mobile phone handset?

There are a number of potentially useful features available on mobile
phones. Some, such as vibrate, visual call alert and audio
amplification, help you know when someone is calling.

Others, such as caller display and message indicator, help you know
who is calling or has left a message. Adjustable volume and
speakerphone – also known as hands-free – may help audibility.
More information – mobile phones
The RNID supplies fact sheets for anyone with a hearing impairment.
There is one on mobile phones for example. Just go to for more information.

Communicating via the internet
The internet has had a significant impact on the way many people
shop, do business and communicate. A person with impaired hearing
can take advantage of the communication choices offered by the

There are two ways to connect to the internet from home:

Broadband: This ‘always on’ connection leaves the phone line free
for calls and is now the most popular way of connecting. Most internet
service providers (ISPs) charge a monthly fee. BT Total Broadband
has options to suit the lightest user to the heaviest and even offers
mobile internet access. For more information go to

Dial-up: You are given a telephone number by your (ISP) to use from
your computer to get online. BT offers two dial-up options: BT Internet
Anytime with a fixed monthly fee; and BT Internet Pay-as-you-go.


Typing a message on your PC and hitting send is an easy method of
communicating, whether it is with friends or to book a hotel room. You
can use email to send documents and pictures – great if you’ve got
family overseas. Messages are normally instantaneous and you can
request a ‘receipt’ to alert you to message delivery or reading.
Email and a choice of email addresses are included as part of your
internet service.

Instant messaging

Instant messaging (IM) allows real-time text-based communication
between two or more participants who are online at the same time.
Once you know someone’s IM address, to send instant messages
you simply type a message in a dedicated window on screen and hit
return or send – the message instantly goes to the recipient, who can
read it and reply in the same way.

Different IM services are available, including Skype, Yahoo and
Google Talk. These make it possible to communicate by text, voice
(VoIP – see below) with a VoIP handset or microphone and speakers
or headset, and even video using a webcam. Not all IM services work
with each other, but you can have multiple services on one PC.

Some organisations make advisers available via IM who you can
‘chat’ with for support or information on a product you might wish to
buy. An example of this is ‘Live chat’ at Contact BT on for help with BT’s products and services.

TalkByText home edition
This charged-for software from the RNID turns a PC into a text
terminal so you can hold text calls over the internet. Unlike instant
messaging, TalkByText provides live, character-by-character text,
allowing proper conversations and calls via a Text Relay service.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
VoIP is a technology that allows you to hold voice conversations over
the internet using your PC. It is possible to connect a VoIP-enabled
telephone directly into a broadband router. For example, the BT
Home Hub used with BT Total Broadband. This is an easy way of
having a second, separate telephone number.
The VoIP broadband number can be used as a dedicated textphone
line, but you will need to check textphone compatibility with your ISP.
Your broadband router may require adjustment.

The BT Home Hub with Broadband Talk enables textphone calls
once you have the correct settings on your Home Hub manager. For
more information see Support and Advice at


A webcam is a small camera connected to the PC. It allows the
person you are communicating with to see you as you chat online.
Webcams are popular in the deaf community for signing over
broadband using British Sign Language (BSL). Online sign language
interpretation services are also available where a member of staff
translates your conversation to a third party, such as staff at local
authority offices. An example of this can be seen at

Quick Q&A – How do I sign over broadband?

With a computer, monitor, webcam and broadband connection you
have all you need to communicate in sign language with anyone else
who has the same set up.

Most IM software has the ability to communicate in video. You can
even record a signed message to be picked up later.

You can even learn BSL online. Some websites have information in
BSL – BT was one of the first. Go to for BT’s BSL

Quick Q&A – What is BT Broadband Talk?

BT Broadband Talk uses your broadband connection rather than your
phone line, so you can use two phone numbers at the same time.
When your BT Total Broadband is activated you will receive a BT
Broadband Talk phone number. You can plug in your Home Hub
phone and use it to make inclusive UK evening and weekend calls,
and other types of calls at lower rates.

If you are already a BT Total Broadband customer, you can sign up
right away at no extra cost.

Quick Q&A - Where can I find out more about the right
phones for me?
The BT Shop ( has a
special section showing which telephones are easiest to use for
people with different disabilities. The site also has information on
products such as headsets, loud ringers and telephones featuring
amplification or hands-free.

BT’s Try Before You Buy centres (
trybeforeyoubuy) located nationally allow you to see and try out
selected BT products to ensure they meet your particular needs
before purchasing.

If you require assistance you can also speak face-to-face to an
adviser at one of the BT Stores across the country. See BTproducts/BTStore for details.
References and further contacts

British Deaf Association –
Deafness Research UK –
Hearing Concern LINK –
National Association of Deafened People –
Ofcom –
The National Deaf Children’s Society –

Organisations wanting to improve their communication with hearing
impaired customers can also find useful information at

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