Thursday, September 30, 2010

Telephone Access For People With Speech Disabilities

by Bob Segalman, Ph.D.
 Do you have a speech disability and live in the USA (including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico)? If so, you can now use a free telephone service 24 hours a day. “Speech to Speech” (STS) provides communication assistants for people with difficulty being understood by the public by telephone. The Federal Communications Commission regulates Speech to Speech, which is a form of relay service. STS is also available in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.

STS is provided through the TTY relay in each state. Unlike TTY, STS users communicate by voice through a communication assistant (CA), as many people with speech disabilities have difficulty typing. Many STS users have Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or stroke. Other users stutter or have had a laryngectomy.

 People with speech disabilities can dial toll free to reach a patient, trained CA who is familiar with many speech patterns and has excellent language recognition skills. This CA makes telephone calls for them and repeats their words exactly in a 3-way calling environment. STS is the only way for many people to telephone others not accustomed to their speech.

Speech to Speech helps speech synthesizer users, users of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices by putting their device next to a speakerphone. AAC users may ask the STS communication assistance to set up the call, negotiate the menu, introduce the call explaining AAC and then go into the background. This enables AAC users to communicate independently once the other party is on the line.

I have cerebral palsy and developed the concept of STS. Now it makes telephone use much easier for me. To try out STS, report problems or request information call 1-888-877-5302 and then ask for me at 916-448-5517. Visit the STS website: where you will find the Speech-to-Speech 800 access numbers.

FCC regulations state that individuals can also access STS by dialing 711 and asking for Speech to Speech, but compliance is an issue. If the CA can not place an STS call, please e-mail me ( you used STS? If so, what have been your experiences? What can you do to advocate for the increased use of STS by people with speech disabilities and AAC users?

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