IM this article to a friend!

January 2, 2003

LiberTTY empowers hearing-impaired

From: Tribune-Review, Pa - 02 Jan 2003

By Jennifer Reeger

State Rep. Merle Phillips was visiting his daughter in Virginia several
years ago when he met a young man who was deaf-blind.

He lived by himself and worked at the Library of Congress. And he was able
to communicate with the outside world via a teletypewriter that had Braille

"What was really amazing to me was how he could really communicate," said
Phillips, a Sunbury Republican.

And when the man asked Phillips why Pennsylvania did not offer free or
low-cost devices to those people needing assistance to communicate, Phillips
decided to sponsor a bill to do just that back in 1995.

Since then, more than 3,000 Pennsylvanians who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of
hearing or speech impaired have received free assisting devices from the
Telecommunications Device Distribution Program, also known as LiberTTY.

But starting Feb. 7, more Pennsylvanians will be able to take advantage of
the program, thanks to a bill introduced by Phillips and signed by Gov. Mark
Schweiker in December.

The new law amends the current program by making these communication
devices, including amplifiers, hands-free telephones and TTY, available to
any person with a disability who could use them to communicate.

"This is giving people who are disabled a chance to really do things for
themselves," Phillips said of the enhancement to the program.

The changes in the law came about because of improvements in technology,
said Alice Bosley, consumer educator for the LiberTTY Program.

The program is run by the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council
under the auspices of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Bosley said newer technologies have come about since the program began that
would allow people with other disabilities to use assisting devices to

Because of that, Phillips was asked to enhance the legislation.

People who can't hold a telephone can be served. Or those who have memory
issues - who can't remember names or phone numbers but can remember faces -
can use a phone that allows them to call people based on their picture.

Those with visual disabilities can use a talking telephone, which announces
the number you are dialing as you dial it, so they don't make a mistake.

"This new legislation will allow us to serve different people with different
types of disabilities," Bosley said. "When the legislation was written,
these technologies were not available."

The additions to the program won't cost more money. The program is funded
through the Pennsylvania Relay Surcharge, a tax on every telephone bill in
the state. "It has built up a surplus so there won't be any additional
surcharge," Phillips said.

Pennsylvania residents age 6 and older with disabilities certified by a
doctor, audiologist, speech pathologist or state agent are eligible for the
free devices.

They must be low-income, earning less than $17,720 a year for a single
person and $23,880 for someone who is married. The earnings requirement
increases depending on the size of the household. But only the applicant's
income counts. So a child doesn't have to count his parents' income in order
to qualify, for example, Bosley said.

The devices cost between $35 and $7,000, and it is up to the disabled person
to choose which technology they would like to use. The devices are sent
directly to the client and are covered under warranties, Bosley said.

An estimated 133 people in Westmoreland County and 49 people in Fayette
County have taken advantage of the program, Bosley said.


To be eligible for the LiberTTY program you must be:

- Deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and/or speech impaired. (As of Feb. 7,
the program opens to anyone with a disability who needs an assisting
telecommunications device.)

- A Pennsylvania resident age 6 or older.

- Able to learn to use the requested devices.

- Have gross income of 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less.
Currently, a single person can have an income up to $17,720. The income
level pertains only to the applicant, not to his or her household.

- Have telephone service available, even if it's in a group or nursing home

Here are some of the assisting devices available through the LiberTTY
program. More devices will be added when the new legislation takes effect.

- An in-line amplifier, which amplifies sound and attaches to a standard
telephone for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

- A TTY, a teletypewriter/text telephone used to communicate with another
TTY user or relay service, for those who are severely to profoundly deaf.

- A voice carry-over TTY, which is a text telephone with an amplified
service, for people with severe to profound hearing loss who prefer to
verbally communicate.

- A TTY with large visual display, which is a TTY with a display for deaf
persons for limited vision.

- A TTY with Braille display, a text telephone that outputs information in
Braille for the deaf-blind.

- An amplified large button speaker phone, which is a standard telephone
with adjustable amplification and ringer, enlarged buttons and speaker phone
capability for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.

- A hands-free speaker phone, which allows people to make phone calls using
air, pillow and remote activation switches if they cannot physically use the

- A light signaler, which indicates incoming calls with a flash for those
who are severely to profoundly deaf.

- A ring signaler, which amplifies the ring of any telephone for those who
have difficulty hearing a standard ring.

- A vibrating signaler, which indicates incoming calls with a vibration to a
receiver for those who are deaf.

- A telephone fluency system, which aids those with speech impediments, such
as stuttering, in evening out their speech patterns.

- A talking keyboard, which gives voice to typed input for people with
speech impairment.

For more information on the program, go to the Web site at,
call 1-866-542-3788 (voice) or 717-359-7626 (TTY).

© 2003 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.