I have read many of Roger Ebert’s columns, and many articles about him, that discuss the legitimate challenges – a word I am not using euphemistically – in communicating. He can’t speak, so he relies on a patchwork of techniques from writing notes to typing on his Macintosh to gesturing. His recent column includes a guest post by Pat Bowes, another non-speaking person.
I get the impression Ebert and Bowes are unaware that someone who can hear but not speak can still use a normal voice telephone through the relay service. If you know anything about relay services at all, you assume they let TTY users call voice users and vice-versa. But there are other modes available.
In voice carryover or VCO, if you’re deaf but can still speak you can call anyone using the relay service. You talk and the person you’re calling hears you normally; when they speak, the relay operator types it and you read it on your VCO phone (example).
If you’re Ebert or Bowes or someone else who can’t speak, you use hearing carryover or HCO mode. The person you’re talking to speaks normally, but when it’s your turn in the conversation you type on a TTY keyboard and the relay operator reads it out loud. There are not many HCO phones (Clarity; Uniphone). There isn’t much, or anything, in the way of Macintosh software (apart from the old SoftTTY).
Using HCO, you can call anyone you like and anyone can call you (through the relay service first).
Doing some checking, most, if not all, state relay services (most, if not all, of which are actually subcontracted to Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T) provide HCO. Even Illinois Relay does, I confirmed, despite the lack of mention on its Web site. For out-of-state calls, you can use one of those three providers’ relay services directly (e.g., AT&T HCO).
Using the relay service is merely an option. For a fast typist like Ebert, it is possibly a useful option. And the many times I have tried to get this message across to Ebert I have failed, so let’s see if he gets the message this time.