Many people inquire as to how they can reach an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing by telephone. This includes the question of how to make a call using Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). A relay call allows individuals who cannot hear or who may have other disabilities that may prevent them from using a standard telephone to place and receive calls. The call is placed to communication assistants (CA’s), who help to facilitate the calls. TRS is available in all 50 states as well as the U.S. territories. Also, there is no cost for an individual to use this service.
First, let’s look at all of the different ways an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing can place a call. There are many types or forms of TRS that an individual can use. They include Text-to-Voice teletypewriter (TTY) based TRS, Voice Carry Over, Speech-to-Speech Relay Services, Captioned Telephone Services, Internet Protocol (IP) Relay, IP Captioned Telephone Service, and Video Relay Services (VRS). Each TRS offers the user different ways to communicate.
- Text-to-Voice TTY-based TRS is the most common and probably what most people think of when they hear that someone is using relay. An individual places a call to a CA using a TTY and the CA places a regular voice call. The CA then facilitates communication by voicing what the individual using the TTY is typing and typing back what the person on the other line is voicing.
- Voice Carry Over allows individuals who have a hearing impairment, but can use their voice, to place a call. The individual uses his/her voice so is not required to type and receives responses from the other person in text via the CA. Hearing Carry Over works in reverse. If an individual has speech impairment, the individual can use his/her own hearing to listen to another person and then type his/her part of the conversation, which the CA then relays to the other party.
- Speech-to-Speech Relay Services allow individuals with speech impairments to place calls. A specially trained CA repeats what the caller is saying so that the caller’s words are clear and can be understood by the party that was called. This type of TRS does not require any special equipment.
- Captioned Telephone Services are used by individuals who have some residual hearing and may also want to use their voice. The telephone has a special screen, which displays the captions (or text) of what the other person is saying. Callers can still use their voice and whatever residual hearing they may have while also reading the text on the screen, which allows them to follow the conversation.
- Internet Protocol (IP) Relay is text-based and uses the internet instead of a TTY to place the call. The call is still facilitated by a CA, but it can be placed using a computer or another web-enabled device. The call is handled the same as a Text-to-Voice TTY-based call.
- IP Captioned Telephone Service combines Captioned Telephone Services and IP Relay Services. This service uses the internet and provides captions between the caller and the CA. Using this type of service allows an individual to listen to the conversation as well as read the text of what the other party is saying. This type of service does not require any special equipment and can be used with a voice telephone and a computer or other web-enabled device.
- Video Relay Services (VRS) is Internet-based and allows an individual who primarily uses American Sign Language (ASL) to place a call. The individual placing the call communicates with the CA using video conferencing equipment. The CA voices what the caller is communicating and signs back what the response is from the other party.
Now that we’ve covered the different types of TRS that an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing can use to communicate via telephone, I’m sure you’re wondering how a hearing person would place a call to an individual, especially if the hearing person does not have any special equipment such as a TTY.
Some individuals have a standard telephone phone number that is already set up and linked to relay. You may be able to dial the phone number directly. However, the most common way is to dial 711, which is available in all states. Dialing 711 will link you directly to the relay service and a CA, who will then place the call. (Note: 711 is not available for VRS and IP relay.) So making a call is as simple as dialing 711. When making a relay call, the CA will ask if you have ever used relay before. If you haven’t, don’t worry, the CA will help you.
Please keep the following in mind. If you receive a call from someone who is using relay, please do not hang up. Some people mistake this type of call as a telemarking call. You should hear “Hello, this is the relay service. . .” when you answer the phone.
There are also some rules of etiquette that are used when communicating via relay, most commonly when communicating via TTY. Because it is difficult to know when a person has finished speaking, it can be hard to take turns. Some of the most commonly used abbreviations are GA, which stands for “Go Ahead,” SK, which stands for “Stop Keying,” and SKSK, which indicates that the conversation has ended. Some individuals will use this etiquette verbally when having a conversation via relay. For example, when you are done speaking, you may say “Go Ahead” so that the CA knows that you have finished what you are saying. If you don’t do this, don’t worry. The CA will still be able to tell when you have finished and communicate this to the other person.
For more information or questions related to relay calls, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant.
- Federal Communications Commission (2015). Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS). Retrieved April 27, 2015, from https://www.fcc.gov
- National Association of the Deaf (n.d.). Relay Services. Retrieved April 27, 2015, from http://nad.org