Imagine asking your neighbors to order a pizza for you, call your doctor, or tell your boss that you are sick today. Nationwide relay services – which connect telephone users with people who are deaf or hard of hearing – were not required until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The NAD played an important role in obtaining this provision during the drafting of the ADA. The NAD continues to work hard to ensure full access to the telephone system – addressing issues such as quality, funding, technology development and research, and universal access.
The ADA defines relay services as telephone services that enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have a speech impairment, to communicate with a person who can hear in a manner that is “functionally equivalent” to the ability of an individual without a disability to communicate by telephone.
The ADA required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop and enforce relay service regulations that encourage “the use of existing technology and do not discourage or impair the development of improved technology.” The FCC has used this directive as a means to improve relay services and foster the development of new technology so relay users are not left behind as these technological advancements occur.
Today, deaf and hard of hearing individuals can choose from many different relay service providers and a wide range of relay services:
- TTY relay services, the original and now traditional relay service, which can be reached by anyone by dialing 711 from a telephone or TTY1
- Voice Carry Over (VCO) for people who are deaf or hard of hearing who communicate by speaking
- Hearing Carry Over (HCO) for people with a speech disability who use a TTY
- Speech-to-Speech (STS) relay service for people with a speech disability who use a telephone
- Non-English language relay services, such as Spanish-to-Spanish
- Captioned Telephone Service (CTS) for people with a special “captioned telephone” that enables them to communicate by speaking, listen to what they can hear, and read what the other person is saying through captions displayed on the “captioned telephone”
- Video Relay Service (VRS), an Internet-based system for people with video conferencing equipment or videophones who communicate in American Sign Language
- Internet Protocol Relay (IP Relay) service, an Internet-based system for people with a computer or other web-enabled device who communicate using text
- Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS), an Internet-based system that enables people to communicate by speaking and listening to what they can hear over a telephone, and read what the other person is saying through captions displayed on a computer or other web-enabled device
For more information about these forms of relay services, see the FCC factsheet.
Relay services are provided at no cost (free) to all relay service users. State relay service programs provide and pay for some relay services, such as relay services used on in-state calls made through TTY, CTS and STS. The FCC oversees the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Fund which pays for other relay services, such as relay services used on interstate calls made through TTY, CTS and STS, as well as on all calls made through IP Relay, VRS, and IP CTS.