Deaf or Hard of Hearing? Here’s How to Get a Free Caption Phone

Two women use sign language to communicate with one another inside a coffee shop.
Getty Images
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

Hearing loss affects an estimated 30 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Health.

Being deaf or hard of hearing can make communicating with family and friends over the phone difficult, if not impossible.

Thankfully, people with hearing loss can receive free or steeply discounted assistive technology and captioned telephone services on their landline or cell phone through a program funded by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC.

Here’s how it works.

What Is a Caption Phone?

A caption phone transcribes live phone conversations so it appears in easy-to-read text on a large screen.

Think of it like closed captioning, but for phone calls.

You can use your existing phone number and phone lines. If the service is an internet protocol relay service, you will need a high-speed internet connection instead of a regular phone line to make calls.

Many caption phones save a transcript of the conversation so you can review it later or delete it. They may also feature an answering machine with captioned messages where you can adjust the font size and color.

Other than that, caption phones work like a regular telephone — you can dial and answer calls as usual.

How Is the Caption Phone Free?

Captioned phones are provided for free through a program funded by the FCC called the Intrastate Telecommunications Relay Services program.

The program is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all other U.S. territories. It can be used for local, long distance and international calls.

People who qualify for the program can receive a free caption phone along with free installation. The phone also includes a warranty and free support assistance.

Pro Tip

Learn more about your state’s caption telephone program by checking out this list

How to Get a Free Caption Phone

There are two main ways to go about getting a free phone if you’re deaf or hard of hearing.

  1.  Ask your hearing care provider for help.
  2. Sign up directly with a captioned telephone company.

Each state administers its own program to help people with hearing loss obtain a captioned phone for free or at a discounted price.

To qualify, you’ll need to prove you have hearing loss that requires the use of a caption phone.

You may need a medical provider or audiologist to sign a form certifying that you’re hard of hearing and could benefit from the device.

Some state programs technically loan the device to you for a certain time, after which you own the phone outright. The phone is provided at a very low cost or at no cost at all.

This is a product photo of the State CapTel Contact Phone from T-Mobile.
Photo courtesy of T-Mobile

Working With a Phone Provider

Caption telephone providers can help walk you through the process of signing up for a free phone. Many providers also offer free delivery as well as installation, set up and user training at no charge.

Here’s a list of some of the biggest providers.

Make sure to research each company to see if the service and phone it provides is right for you.

Buying Your Own Caption Phone

You can also buy caption phones from places like Amazon and Best Buy, and still receive telecommunication relay services through one of the caption call companies for free.

Caption phones average about $75, though more sophisticated models are more expensive.

Caption Phone Apps

Getting a free landline phone is great, but making your cell phone accessible is also key.

CapTel, ClearCaptions and CaptionCall all offer their own apps for mobile phone caption services. Once you sign up with one of these providers at your home, you can access their caption services on your cell phone, too.

Other caption app providers include:

Both InnoCaption and eyeHear are free to download and use.

Because these four apps aren’t connected to a caption phone company, anyone can use them, even if you don’t qualify for a traditional caption phone at home.

Each mobile app has its own pros and cons, so be sure to try them out to find one that works best for your specific hearing impairment.

Other Help for People With Hearing Loss

Hearing loss disproportionately affects older Americans. Nearly 25% of Americans aged 65 to 74 have disabling hearing loss. That number jumps to 50% for people 75 and older, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people ages 65 and older, pays for some hearing benefits, but not all Medicare plans cover hearing aids. (Some private Medicare Advantage plans may provide additional hearing benefits, including money for hearing aids.)

For people with mild to moderate hearing loss, over-the-counter hearing aids can help. These new devices hit the market in late 2022 and serve as an affordable alternative to expensive hearing devices.

Speaking with an audiologist or other medical provider is the best way to explore your options and find out what accessible technology you can benefit from.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. She focuses on retirement, investing, taxes and life insurance.