Many older deaf and hard of hearing Americans remember relying on their families, friends, or neighbors to make a simple phone call. Today, deaf and hard of hearing people are empowered by having more accessible telephone products and services, including hearing aid compatible phones. In the last 20 years, a wide range of voice, text, and video relay services and technologies have also been developed that enable consumer choice of language and mode of communication to access the telephone network.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandated a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services to make the telephone network accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech impairments. Relay services enable deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate in a manner that is as close to “functionally equivalent” as possible to the communications enjoyed by telephone users. Relay services also provide access to 9-1-1 emergency call centers; operate 24/7; are provided free to relay users; and comply with strict confidentiality requirements. Initially available for users of teletypewriters (TTYs), new technologies give consumers choices: voice carry-over; hearing carry-over; captioned telephone service; and Internet-based communication through text relay services (Internet Protocol or IP Relay), video relay services (VRS), and captioned telephone services.
The NAD works diligently to improve access to the telephone network through innovation in relay services, technologies, and equipment, and the through the development of strong public policies.