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Special Telephone Equipment
By Eileen Alter

We live in an age where most people take using the telephone for granted. At least several times a day, most of us use a telephone to call friends and family members, schedule appointments, place orders, and handle any one of a number of other tasks. A personís inability to use a telephone due to a physical disability can often result in loneliness, isolation and a sense of increased vulnerability. With the proper assistive telecommunication equipment, many individuals can regain their independence.

If you or someone you know could benefit from adaptive telephone equipment, help may be available. To address this growing need, many states have programs which offer assistance to people who have disabilities that interfere with standard telephone usage. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech impaired, blind, or who have low vision, cognitive impairments, or restricted mobility, are often eligible to receive equipment that will assist them in using the telephone. These programs, commonly referred to as telecommunication equipment distribution programs, often provide qualifying applicants with free or low-cost devices to accommodate the userís disability and improve their telecommunication access.

The Telephone Equipment Distribution Program Association (TEDPA) is a national membership organization formed to support programs involved in statewide, or jurisdiction-wide, distribution of specialized telecommunications equipment for persons with disabilities. By providing a forum for these types of programs TEDPA participants exchange information and assist one another with program administration responsibilities. Internet links to many statewide program websites which provide information about available products and services can be found at www.tedpa.org.

Each state determines which devices are available, how frequently equipment can be replaced, and whether the equipment is on loan to or owned by the qualifying applicant. Most programs include devices such as phones with amplification and special dialing and answering features, TTYís, Voice Carryover (VCO) telephones, and ring signalers. Some programs offer more highly specialized devices, such as assistive speech devices, and provide qualifying applicants with individualized equipment training at a regional field office or in the recipientís home.

Application procedures and eligibility requirements vary widely from state to state. Many programs offer equipment to anyone with a disability which hinders their telephone usage, although there are programs which restrict equipment provision to only those with certain disabilities and sometimes only to who are also from low income households. Proof of residency and disability verification is generally required and some programs also require proof of residential phone service.

For information regarding a program that may be available in your state, visit the TEDPA website. Information may also be available from state public utility or service commissions (PUC or PSC) or agencies or councils providing services to individuals with disabilities.

Specialized telephone equipment may be the answer to helping you or a loved one use the telephone to stay in touch with the outside world and maintain the independence and freedom to live life to the fullest.


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