Making Phone Conversations Clear as Day

The Boomer is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their golden years. It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to 

I must have been about five years old when my mother "dialed up" my grandmother to let her know it was my first day of school. Struggling to see the numbers, it seemed to take my mother forever to complete the call and when she finally connected, Nana couldnt hear her.

The phone itself was almost as big as the desktop it sat on, and I had to sit right at the desk to talk because the cord was so short. The handset was very heavy for my little hands, but I was proud to tell my Nana I was on my way to my first day of kindergarten.

Click here to read: Boomers, Can You Hear Me Now?

Well boomers, things have certainly changed in the world of phones and communications over the years, and many of us have said so long to the clumsy, big phones of the past and embraced much smaller cell phones.

But lets face it: no matter how open we are to this new technology, time waits for no one, and for baby boomers experiencing hearing loss ClearCaptions has created a captioning service that works together with users phones and an Internet-connected computer or mobile phone.

Launched in May, the service adds captions on users phone calls similar to closed captions on TV; users can hear and read whats being said.

Below Dan Luis, CEO of ClearCaptions explains the evolution of phone usage and mobile captioning among baby boomers and those with hearing loss.

Boomer: What is ClearCaptions and how does it work?

Luis: ClearCaptions is an easy to use service that allows people to receive captions on their phone calls just as if they were watching TV. It works with equipment and services that people already have; if you have Internet connection and a telephone, you have pretty much everything you would need to use the service. Users go to our Web site ( type in their phone number as well as the number they want to call and that initiates the call as well as the captions that pop up on screen. The service allows people to discreetly and easily watch the conversation so as not to miss anything.

Boomer: What need do you see that ClearCaptions is fulfilling?

Luis: There are numerous reasons people lose their hearing; sometimes its age related while others times its due to a persons environment. Our research shows boomers who are losing their hearing tend to reach for different types of accommodations. Hard-of-hearing boomers tend to start using a speaker phone to accommodate for their hearing loss because they blame the phone for not being able to hear the person on the other line. After awhile, it dawns on them that they are actually losing their hearing and they want something to be able to help them deal with basic communication. Communication is central to everything we do, and when people have a difficult time communicating they often go into isolation and become further removed from their social groups and it can hurt job performance for those still working.

What we are trying to do with ClearCaptions is to allow them to augment their ability to communicate on the telephone in a way that is very natural and very integrated with what they are already doing. We allow people to use equipment and tools that they already have so that their use of ClearCaptions is completely in their control; it is discreet and integrated with what they are already doing versus them going out and maybe purchasing equipment that looks different  or behaves differently than what everybody else is using. We feel communicating will become a big need and is going to be a growing market.

Boomer: Can you describe how someone can become a user of ClearCaptions?

Luis: It is very simple to sign up: users visit our Web site and create an account--it takes less than two minutes. Once they have read through our terms and conditions and verified they meet the requirements (that they have difficulties using the telephone because of hearing-related issues), they can start using the service. Facebook users can also use their accounts to create an account with us. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules allow ClearCaptions to offer this service to U.S. residents who are deaf or hard of hearing for free.

Boomer: What kind of feedback have you received from your users? How has this service improved their conditions?

Luis: Surprisingly, this is probably the most satisfying aspect of the job and I love the work we do. Feedback from our customers, both good and bad, is so helpful because it helps us shape the service. The preponderance of the feedback is very positive and very emotional. Communication is so essential to enjoying life that when people cant hear others, they feel like they are missing out on a big part of life.

We received an e-mail from a 36-year-old woman who had severe hearing loss but was able to call her mother for the first time in years because she was now able to communicate over the phone. We also have a female user who is mostly bedridden who keeps a cordless phone next to a cart with a laptop on it to use our service. She told us she wanted to be ClearCaptions poster girl because she was so excited about using it.

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