Phone Service Geared to Speech Problems

A little-known telephone service for people with speech impediments and who have trouble being understood is available in California.

Similar to the California Relay Service for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, the Speech-to-Speech service provides an intermediary who will repeat everything the caller says. But unlike the relay system, Speech-to-Speech conversations are conducted on a conference call, so the caller can be heard by the third party and can hear his responses. Also, no equipment is necessary to use the service.

Shelley Friedson-Williams, outreach consultant for the statewide program, said many of the callers have cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, minimal brain injuries, use a voice synthesizer or may stutter.

She said many times those who call in because they feel they will not be understood are able to communicate better with the intermediary on the line.

"They don't have to concern themselves with, 'Is this person understanding what I'm saying?' They just have to be concerned with, 'Is my point coming across?' " she said. "It doesn't take away the frustration of trying to form the words, but it does take away a bit of the stress they feel about being understood."

The service's 25 operators are chosen for their acute hearing and patience. They are trained to decipher speech impediments that others may have a hard time understanding, and help with personal, business and even emergency calls.

Speech-to-Speech, which takes about 5,000 calls per month in California, is free and supported by the California Public Utilities Commission, which uses the TTY and TDD fees paid by all phone customers.

Operators may be reached 24 hours a day by calling (800) 854-7784.

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