Believe it or not, people still use smartphones to make voice telephone calls. This can be a very convenient way to conduct business or to connect with family and friends. But there’s one group of people who have a problem with this: the hearing impaired. In spite of great advances in hearing aids and other technology, many people still can’t hear well enough to hold a conversation on a phone. Fortunately, there are services that provide near-real time captions for phone calls. But these services are not always available.

ClearCaptions is a company that provides Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service. This is an FCC-licensed service that is provided at no charge by the federal government for registered users with hearing loss. The company offers desktop phones as well as an app for iPhones and iPads (iOS 12.0 or later). (An Android version is under development.) Typically, a live communications assistant (CA) listens in on the call, and types the captions in nearly real-time. The problem is that when demand is high, callers may have to wait until a CA is available to take the call.

The FCC has now certified the company to use automatic speech recognition (ASR) for its captioning service. Initially, the company will only use the computer speech recognition in overflow situations when a CA is not available to take the call, but the goal is that this technology will allow the company to increase capacity rapidly. But you may want the automated version anyway.

Testing by the FCC National Testing Lab revealed that the ASR technology error rate was as much as 5% lower than for human captioners. And an independent testing lab found it to be 1% more accurate than the industry average for CA-generated captions.

Speech-to-text captions for the hearing impaired can make a big difference when communicating with healthcare professionals. And just the ability to connect with others can help relieve isolation and depression, both of which can have a big impact on a person’s health.