Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) in the USA
The TRS in the USA started as a voluntary effort in the 1970’s and expanded through the 1980’s. California became the first state to require mandated provision of the TRS which was subsidized by a surcharge on every telephone subscriber’s telephone bill in the state. As a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, TRS became mandated for every state and territory by July 26, 1993.
Some of the following is from the Federal Communication Commission’s Fact Sheet website at http://ftp.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/trs.html
How does TRS work?
TRS uses operators, called ‘communications assistants’ (CAs) to facilitate telephone calls for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or late deafened, or people with speech disabilities. The FCC rules require telephone companies to provide TRS nationwide on a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week basis, at no extra call to callers. Conversations are relayed in real-time and CAs are not permitted to disclose the content of any converstion. Relay callers are not limited in the type, length, or nature of their calls.
What types of TRS are available?
There are several types of TRS available. Any of these may be initiated by an individual who is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech disability or by a hearing telephone user.
Text to Voice TRS
This type of TRS uses a CA who speaks what a TTY (text user) types and types what a voice telephone user replies. The first step of this type of TRS is the TTY user’s call to the TRS center. This is what is functionally equivalent to receiving a ‘dial tone’. The caller then gives the number of the party that she or he wants to call to the CA. The CA in turn places an outbound voice call to the called party. The CA serves as the ‘link’ in the conversation, converting all TTY messages from the caller into voice messages, and all voice messages from the called party into typed messages for the TTY user. The process is performed in reverse when a voice telephone user intiates the call.
Voice Carry Over
Voice Carry Over (VCO) TRS enables a person who is hard of hearing, but who wants to use his or her own voice, to speak directly to the receiving party and to receive responses in text form through the CA. No typing is required by either the calling or the called party.
Hearing Carry Over
Hearing Carry Over (HCO) TRS enables a person with a speech disability to type his or her part of the conversation to on a TTY. The CA reads these words to the called party and the caller hears responses directly from the other party.
Speech to Speech Relay
A person with a speech disability uses a CA specially trained in understanding a variety of speech disabilities. The CA repeats what the caller says in a manner that makes the caller’s words clear and understandable. No special telephone is needed for this option.
Video Relay Services
Video Relay Services (VRS) TRS enables sign language using individuals to make relay calls using sign language. The caller signs to the CA with the use of video equipment and the CA voices what is signed to the called party and signs back to the caller. At the present time, this type of service is not required by the FCC, but is offered on a voluntary basis by certain TRS programs. This option is helpful for people who are ASL users and for poeple who are not able to type on a TTY easily, such as children.
Spanish Relay Services
Telephone companies must provide interstate (between states) relay services in Spanish. While Spanish language relay is not required for calls within (intrastate), many states with large Spanish populations already offer this service on a voluntary basis.
7-1-1 Access to TRS
In the USA, you can call 7-1-1 to connect to relay services anywhere in the USA. This feature makes it easier for travelers as that means they do not have to look up the Relay number in each state they visit.
Don’t hang up!
Some people hang up on relay calls because they think the CA is a telemarketer. If you answer the phone and hear, “Hello, this is the Relay Service. Have you received a relay call before?” Please don’t hang up! Congratulations! You are about to talk to a person who is deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled on your phone!
More Information on TRS in the USA
To learn more about TRS, visit the FCC’s Web site at www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/trs.html
If you have questions, need assistance on other disability issues, or if you would like to receive free information about disability issues on a regular basis via e-mail, contact the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: As you can see, the TRS has evolved to provide a variety of services and more are provided as technology develops. One new feature is IP relay which I will touch upon soon. Another feature that is very popular in the USA is the Video Relay Service. The FCC is considering whether to make both IP relay and VRS relay mandatory through its pending rulemaking procedure.