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Communicating with family and friends

Photo: Communicating with family and friends

In this section you will find information on products and technologies which are designed to help you communicate better by phone, text or video. You can also read more about relay services.

Please remember...

As much of our communication nowadays is online, it’s really important to understand the security and privacy settings of any service or apps you are using and be aware of who you are interacting with online. Most social networking services have a minimum age requirement for users, so please check this before signing up for a service. For example, Facebook has a minimum age of 13 and WhatsApp requires members to be at least 16. For tips on protecting yourself online, go to the NSPCC website for information on internet safety.

Communicating on the phone by voice

Telephones are one of the main ways we keep in touch with friends and family so it's important to feel confident when using them. In this section you can find information about different products, accessories and solutions that are available to you when using the phone.

How can I make calls easier to hear?

Conventional home landline phones, mobile phones and smartphones can be adapted to make it easier for you to hear a voice conversation by using compatible accessories.

There are a wide range of landline and mobile phone accessories available to make your existing handset easier to use. Alternatively, there are phones specifically designed for deaf people. These phones usually have many additional features including high volume settings, flashing lights, variable tone, hands-free speakerphone and hearing aid compatibility – which means they will work with the T programme on your hearing aids giving clear conversations with little or no background noise.

Some also have Bluetooth which enables a direct connection to Bluetooth neckloops, digital streamers and radio aids. Amplified home phones are available as corded, cordless (known as DECT phones) or combined corded and cordless models. 

Smartphones are an important product for many deaf young people as they allow access the internet and the use of apps. There are many different mobile phones available ranging from basic phones to those specially designed for people with a hearing loss. You can also look at the growing range of mobile phone accessories that can make it easier for you to hear when using a mainstream mobile. Such accessories could also be useful if you choose to make calls via social media apps such as Facebook Messenger.

What if I want to communicate by voice with someone who can only use text?

Read our information on communicating using relay services which explains how speech, text and BSL users can communicate easily and also how you can get in touch with the 999 emergency services by text.

I often miss phone calls – what technology could help?

Many amplified phones have loud ringtones or flashing lights to help you know when someone is calling. Additionally, smartphones usually have a vibration setting to alert you to calls or messages. If you have a landline phone without any of these features then you might want to use a telephone alerter. This product attaches to the landline phone socket and lets your child know when the phone is ringing by flashing or making a very loud sound. Telephone alerters are also included in personal alerting systems and some models of alarm clocks and doorbells.

Communicating via text

One of the most common ways to communicate is via text, either via text-message or online via email or messaging apps. Short messages are ideal for making social arrangements or keeping in touch with friends and family - especially if a deaf person prefers not communicate by voice. 

Many people use their mobile phone to communicate via text so it's important that when you are deciding upon a mobile phone plan that you compare the different options and usage allowances. Many network providers offer text-only deals, unlimited texts plans or plans with enough data to use messaging apps to your heart's content. 

Here we discuss a few ways to communicate via text.

Email and social media

Much of our communication via text is now carried out online. For example, instead of calling friends to make social arrangements, services such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp are now often used instead. These changes mean that it is much easier for deaf people to communicate with others. 

Sending messages via social media has become a part of everyday life for many people and organisations, and it can be a great way to keep up to date with people from all over the world or make arrangements with those nearby. Email is especially useful for sharing larger pieces of text, documents or images

If you have a smartphone or tablet you will have access to a huge range of (messaging) apps which can help you communicate better. Have a look at our Apps Resource for inspiration.

Using a textphone

Textphones work on a telephone landline and allow users to have text conversations with others who are using either textphones or voice phones. Textphones have a keyboard and a small screen where the text conversation will be shown. Some have a handset so they can also be used for voice calls.

A more modern solution for text calls?

Textphones aren’t widely used anymore; instead more people are using relay services. The Next Generation Text service allows communication over a wide range of devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers and laptops. It's especially useful for contacting people who can't be contacted through social media messaging apps, for example when making an appointment with your audiologist. It also allows you to communicate when you are out and about or don’t have access to a telephone landline.

Communicating using video

Recent advances in video and wireless internet technologies have been particularly valuable to deaf people, allowing them to use video so that they can communicate online by lipreading or using sign language. As well as this, many people use online video to express themselves and communicate to a wider audience by creating YouTube videos. 

If you are using a PC or laptop to communicate by video then you will need to make sure that you have a webcam connected to it (most laptops come with one built in). However if you are using a tablet or smartphone then you'll need to make sure it has a forward facing camera.

There are lots of video chat apps and facilities available and many are free to use. Popular ways to communicate using live video chat include Skype, Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and InstagramHave a look at our Apps Resource to see which video-chat apps might be right for you.

Communicating using relay services

A relay service means that a third person will be involved in your voice or video calls. Their role is to translate between the two people having a conversation so that both can fully understand the other and have a productive conversation. Commonly, relay services work between speech and text and between BSL and spoken language.

Because another person is involved these conversations are slower than a normal speech conversation. However, they are popular with deaf adults as they give communication access to a wide range of people and organisations. It's especially useful for calling people who you are not able to reach by using videocalling apps such as Facebook messenger, such as organisations who are not in your friends list. It's also useful when you need to make sure you understand exacty what the other person says, such as when making medical appointments.

Read more about the Next Generation Text service, video relay services and the emergencySMS service here.