How to communicate

Technology has changed the way deaf or hard of hearing persons communicate. Previously a deaf or hard of hearing person was only able to use a teletypewriter (TTY) which is also called a telecommunication device (TDD) to make or receive telephone calls. Today, deaf or hard of hearing persons use TTYs, E-mail, two-way pagers, text messaging, smart phones (BlackBerrys and SideKicks), as well as telephone and video relay services. Although TTYs are still used, these new communication devices are the most popular way of contacting deaf or hard of hearing persons. Clinicians find it much easier to use E-mail to schedule appointments and conduct other non-confidential communications with clients. Relay services are commonly used by clinicians who do not have a TTY. This appendix provides inexperienced users guidance on how to utilize relay services (telephone or video) when communicating with deaf or hard of hearing clients.

How to Make Relay Telephone Calls?

A TTY can be used to communicate via telephone with people whether or not both parties have a TTY. If only one party has a TTY, then a relay operator must be used to facilitate the telephone call. This relay service is officially called Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS) and there is no fee for using a relay operator. However, if the call is long distance, fees will be charged to the caller's local long distance carrier. Some TTYs also serve as answering machines when receiving calls, but not all do. TTYs are quite expensive and other technology (i.e. text pagers and email) may be preferred means of communication by some deaf people.

Relay services can be accessed by both hearing and deaf persons by dialing 711 in most areas of the United States. Some areas have not yet designated the three-digit 711 phone number to relay services. To contact relay services where the three-digit 711 phone number is not available, dial 0 for the operator to provide assistance or consult a phone book for relay service access information. Relay calls tend to require more time than direct calls since a third party is assisting with the communication. For this reason, many people prefer relay calls to be concise, yet polite. The relay operator does not keep a record of the call, and the call is completely confidential under Federal Communication Commission mandates. First-time users of relay services may want to notify the relay operator that this is a first-time relay call. The relay operator can be helpful in reminding you of the following rules of using relay services.

  • Speak or type directly to the caller, not to the relay operator.
  • Only one person can respond at a time. Take turns in the telephone conversation by saying, "Go Ahead" or typing "GA" at the end of each response.
  • At the beginning of the conversation, when the operator announces that it is your turn to respond, provide your name and spell it for the relay operator, then ask for the person you are calling.
  • If you must put the caller on hold during the call, wait until it is your turn and say or type, "Hold Please." All unexpected interruptions in phone conversations should be explained briefly. For example, "Must answer other phone line, Hold please."
  • At the end of the conversation, alert the caller you are ready to end the call by saying, "Goodbye Go Ahead to Signing off" or typing, "Goodbye GA SK." This allows for any last minute communication.
  • Just before hanging up say, "Signing off" or type "SK SK." After both parties have done this, then you may hang up the phone.

Relay services are not needed if both callers have TTYs. Consult the instructions that accompany your TTY for appropriate guidelines when using a TTY or purchase the following resource:

GA and SK Etiquette: Guideline for Telecommunications in the Deaf Community (1991) by Sharon J. Cagle and Keith M. Cagle, Bowling Green Press, Inc., 1435 Rosewood Drive, Bowling Green, Ohio 43402.

Video Relay Calls

Video relay services allow consumers to communicate via video equipment in which signing callers communicate directly with one another, or a sign language interpreter. Using equipment designed either for your computer or TV, hearing consumers can quickly connect with a sign language interpreter who can video relay calls to deaf or hard of hearing persons. Additional equipment may be needed depending on your video relay service provider.

Video relay calls have become increasingly popular for several reasons. First, this service allows native signers to communicate in their primary language, which allows for more freedom of expression. Consumers also benefit from the ideas expressed through facial expressions that are essential grammatical parts of American Sign Language. Another reason consumers prefer this service is that conversations appear to flow much faster and easier than when utilizing telecommunication relay services. Some find this service flexible to their needs since it can be provided via computer or TV through high-speed or broadband internet connections.

A half a dozen companies provide video relay services free to callers. Sorenson VRS, AT&T, and Sprint are three popular providers. Deaf and hard of hearing persons may obtain VRS equipment for free in order to conduct business and connect with friends and family across the nation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates relay services and oversees the Interstate TRS Fund which compensates these companies for their service.

Tips for placing a Video Relay Call

Since step by step instructions on using this service depends on the equipment you have only tips for general use of VRS services are provided below:

  • Make sure the TV and videophone are on. Or, if using the computer, make sure all pop-up blockers are off.
  • Adjust the lens on the videophone/ web camera until your image is positioned correctly on the screen.
  • Have the name, videophone number or IP address of the person you are contacting ready for the interpreter who will connect you to your party.
  • Remain holding until you are connected with the next available interpreter.

Hearing customers can also place video relay calls to any deaf or hard-of-hearing individual by simply dialing a toll free number with a standard telephone.

Using Sorenson: dial 1-866-FAST-VRS or 1-866-327-8877
Using AT&T: dial 1-888-VRS-9998
Using Sprint: dial 1-866-410-5797

*** Remember, Video Relay Services are different from Video Relay Interpreting (VRI)! VRI involves two persons in the same location needing an interpreter to facilitate communication. Video Relay Interpreters provide this interpreting service from a remote location via video equipment. Video Relay Services can not be used for this purpose according to federal regulations.

Helpful Links:

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website:

Special thanks to Sorenson VRS for help in providing information on video relay services to our providers.

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