May 19, 2015, – Australia
Hundreds of thousands of deafblind Australians will now be able to make phone calls easily with a world first trial of a caption-braille phone
Victorian woman Michelle Stevens was born with vision impairment and lost her hearing years ago due to chronic ear infections.
She’s been unable to call people over the telephone using her own voice since.
“It can be really isolating for deaf blind people,” said Michelle.
The 58-year-old has now become the first deafblind Australian to make a telephone call with the assistance of caption-to-Braille technology.
Speaking at the launch of an Australian trial in Sydney, she said it was the “first time in a very, very long time where my sister has been able to hear my voice”.
“There’s just one word I have for this – it’s absolutely awesome,” she said.
The technology allows people with vision and hearing impairments to communicate using their own voice.
People’s responses are then turned into captions that can then be interpreted using the Braille display.
The Braille CapTel technology was developed by US phone company Ultratec and has been picked up by local non-profit Conexu Foundation for a six month trial.
Michelle is one of five Australians taking part across NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
“Now everyone who speaks with Michelle is going to hear Michelle,” Ultratec Director, Christopher Engelke said.
“They’re not going to hear me or some other voice translating for her.”
Stephen Hallinan is also taking part and said he was excited by the opportunity to communicate.
“It’s so powerful being able to use your own voice because you can convey so much emotion,” he said.
The technology could become increasing important in the future as the population ages with an estimated 330,000 people in Australia experiencing a dual sensory loss.
The Australian trial will run alongside a US version, which has already gained interest from organisations including the Helen Keller School and the US Department of Veteran Affairs.