Niel Thompson may not be able to hear, but he never tires of talking and listening to people.
Thompson, the county representative of the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, is in the business of showing those with hearing impairments how to use the phone to communicate.
Working from the Orange County Deaf Equal Access Foundation, he gives presentations across the county on the California Relay Service and related equipment.
"It's an important job because I teach the deaf and hearing-impaired about technology that can help them communicate and lead independent lives," said Thompson, through an interpreter.
The relay service, operating since 1987, involves a network of operators who transmit typewritten messages between people with full hearing and those with hearing or speech impairments. A hearing-impaired person must use a teletypewriter, known as TTY, to communicate with the operator.
The relay service is available 24 hours a day, year-round, and all conversations are confidential. A hearing person who wants to use the service calls (800) 735-2922. A person with a teletypewriter can use the service by dialing (800) 735-2929. For both services in Spanish, call (800) 855-3000.
"It is a service that gives people the opportunity to do things like getting a job, making a medical appointment or leaving a message on answering machines," Thompson said.
Officials estimate that there are 133,000 people with hearing impairments in Orange County.
"Once you have a TTY, you wonder how you did without it," said Belle Levan) after one of Thompson's presentations for the Hearing Impaired Club at Leisure World. "My husband died two years ago and he was my ears. Now the TTY is very important to me."
For information about obtaining the teletypewriter, which costs about $400, call (714) 826-9793.