Telecommunications relay service

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A telecommunications relay service, also known as TRS, relay service, or IP-relay, or Web-based relay service, is an operator service that allows people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have a speech disorder to place calls to standard telephone users via a keyboard or assistive device. Originally, relay services were designed to be connected through a TDD, teletypewriter (TTY) or other assistive telephone device. Services gradually have expanded to include almost any real-time text capable technology such as a personal computer, laptop, mobile phone, PDA, and many other devices. The first TTY was invented by deaf scientist Robert Weitbrecht in 1964. The first relay service was established in 1974 by Converse Communications of Connecticut.

Types of services available

Depending on the technical and physical abilities and physical environments of users, different call types are possible via relay services.

TTY to voice/voice to TTY

Once the most common type of TRS call, TTY calls involve a call from a deaf or hard-of-hearing person who utilizes a TTY to a hearing person. In this type of call, typed messages are relayed as voice messages by a TRS operator,[1] (also known as Communication Assistant (CA),[2] Relay Operator (RO),[3] Relay Assistant (RA),[4] or relay agent (agent)), and vice versa. This allows callers who are unable to use a regular telephone to be able to place calls to people who use a regular telephone and vice versa. When the person who is hearing is ready for a response, it is customary to say "go ahead" or "GA" to indicate that it is the TTY user's turn to talk and "stop keying", "SK", or "ready to hang up" when ending the call and vice versa. This mode of communication has largely been superseded by other modes of communications, including the utilization of IP relay, VPs, VRS, and VRI.

Voice carry over

A common type of call is voice carry over, VCO. This allows a person who is hard of hearing or deaf but can speak to use their voice while receiving responses from a person who is hearing via the operator's typed text. There are many variations of VCO, including two-line VCO and VCO with privacy.

VCO with privacy

The operator will not hear the VCO user's voiced messages and the VCO user does not need to voice GA. The operator will hear the person who is hearing, and the person who is hearing must give the GA each time to alert the operator it is the VCO user's turn. The VCO user does not need to voice GA, because the VCO user types it or presses the "VCO GA" button on the VCO phone when it's the voice user's turn to talk.

Two-line VCO

Two-line VCO allows a VCO user using a TTY or computer to call a TRS operator, who in turn calls the VCO user on a second telephone line, which serves as the voice line. The user puts the operator on a brief hold to initiate a three-way call with the hearing person. This method is frequently used by people who are hard of hearing and like to use some of their residual hearing as well not having to say "go ahead". With two-line VCO, the VCO user and the voice user can interrupt each other. VCO with Privacy cannot be used with two-line VCO, because the operator, VCO user, and hearing person are on a three-way call.

Hearing carry over

A less common call type is hearing carry over (HCO). HCO allows a person who is speech-disabled but can hear to use their hearing while sending responses to a person who is hearing via the HCO user's typed text. The operator voices the HCO user's typed messages, and then the HCO users picks up the handset and listens to the other voice user's response. There are many variations of HCO, including two-line HCO and HCO with privacy.

HCO with privacy

The operator will not hear the voice user's voiced messages and the voice user does not need to voice GA. The operator will voice for the person who is Speech-Disabled, and the person who is Speech–Disabled must give the GA each time to alert the operator it is the voice user's turn. The voice user does not need to voice GA, because the HCO user can hear when the voice user finishes talking.

2-line HCO

Similar to 2-line VCO, 2-line HCO allows an HCO user using a TTY or computer to call a TRS operator, who in turn calls the HCO user on a second telephone line, which serves as the voice line. The user puts the operator on a brief hold to initiate a three-way call with the hearing person. This method is frequently used by people who are Speech-Disabled and like to use some of their residual speech as well not having to type "GA". With 2–Line HCO, the HCO user and the voice user can interrupt each other. HCO with Privacy cannot be used with 2–Line HCO, because the operator, HCO user, and hearing person are on a three–way call.

Speech to speech

Speech to speech (STS) exists for people who have speech disabilities. A specially–trained STS TRS operator revoices what the person with a speech disability says. STS is often used in combination with VCO for people who are deaf and have somewhat understandable speech, as well as two–Line HCO users. STS enables people with speech disabilities to call others (able-bodied speakers and other people with speech disabilities). It also enables people without speech disabilities to call people with speech disabilities. Anyone can call 711 in the U.S. and ask for Speech to Speech. STS is also available in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.

Many STS users have Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or stroke. Other users stutter or have had a laryngectomy. STS also helps speech synthesizer users, users of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC.) AAC users can set their device next to a speakerphone. They ask the STS CA set up the call, negotiate the menu, introduce the call explaining AAC and then go into the background. This enables AAC users to communicate independently once the other party is on the line. For more information visit [1].

DeafBlind variation

Telebraille also exists for people who are DeafBlind with the use of a TTY with a braille or regular keyboard and a refreshable braille display or LVD (Large Visual Display). A relay call of a user who is DeafBlind is directly related to a relay call of a TTY user, however, the text transmission speed is often reduced to increase the ability of the user who is DeafBlind to comprehend the moving braille on the braille TTY or large print on the LVD. Telebraille relay operators must be familiar with Braille contractions that users who are DeafBlind may use. Some TTY users with mobile disabilities may prefer to use a Telebraille, due to the smaller keyboard, regardless of a sight disability or lack thereof.

Captioned telephone

Captioned telephone (also called captioned relay or Cap-Tel) is a hybrid communication method that enables people who are hard of hearing, oral deaf or late–deafened to make phone calls.[5] It is a telephone that displays real-time captions of the current conversation. The captions are typically displayed on a screen embedded into the telephone base. A captioned telephone may also be called a CapTel, which is a brand name for a captioned telephone. A CapTel can also function exactly like a VCO by switching the device to VCO mode, for example, to communicate with an HCO user directly, without relay.

Captions are created by a captionist using a computer with voice recognition software. Captionists listen to and revoice one side of the conversation into the microphone of a headset. A voice recognition program creates the captions and they are sent out to the CapTel user.

While this service is similar to 2–Line VCO, it only requires one telephone line, but privacy is inherent, since the CapTel captioner cannot hear the CapTel user. Unlike TTY, VCO, HCO, and STS relay, CapTel is only available to people in states that have CapTel as part of their relay service, because the FCC has not mandated CapTel captioning service. CapTel is available in almost every state and federal territory for federal/military employees/ contractors (active or retired) and American Indians.[6][7][8]

Captioned telephone is now available via the web as of spring 2008 in the form of WebCapTel, eliminating the need for the user to purchase specialized hardware. Anyone who has difficulty can make use of this CapTel service.

Two–line CapTel

CapTel can also be used with two lines. This is especially useful for users who prefer to give out their home phone number alone, instead of both the captioning service number and the toll-free captioning service number or for users who prefer to turn captions on and off anytime during the call. 2–Line CapTel can also be used with other relay services. For example, STS can be used with 2–Line CapTel, for CapTel users with speech disabilities. 2–Line CapTel is only available to people in states that have 2–Line CapTel as part of their relay service or federal employees/contractors and American Indians.[8][9]


WebCapTel enables telephone calls to be placed with captions, by utilizing the World Wide Web browser window of a computer or smart phone. It is similar to a traditional CapTel phone call except the user's own telephone equipment is used, whilst the captions are viewed online instead of in the CapTel display screen.[10]

Other variations

Many other call type variations are possible, including VCO to VCO, HCO to HCO, HCO to TTY, and VCO to TTY. Fundamentally, relay services have the ability to connect any two callers with different abilities over the telephone network. Voice callers in the United States can now access the service with a universal number: 711.[11] After the number is dialled, the caller will receive instructions to complete the call to reach deaf callers.

IP relay service or Web-based text relay services

IP relay services are also called Web-based text relay services in Europe. There are Internet relay services, called IP relay, that provide functionality similar to TTY to voice services, replacing the TTY and telephone line with a specialized computer program and Internet connection. There are multiple types of computer programs that can be used including custom Java-based programs that run in the user's Web browser and instant message based services.

Since it is not possible to identify the exact location of a caller using an Internet service, the relay operator will ask for the street address, city, and state from which the call is originating when requesting a call to 911 (USA). If this information is not provided then the operator will be unable to process the call. In Europe, calls to the emergency services (112) are placed via the regular text relay services.

Many IP relay services now support many methods of communications, such as Web browser, mobile phone app, text messaging, WAP, instant messaging, and real-time text methods to communicate through the relay service. This has made it possible to use almost any generic connected device to use a relay service, such as a personal computer, laptop, mobile phone, PDA, or other device capable of utilizing the connection methods provided by an IP relay provider.

Video relay service

Video relay service (VRS) allows people who use sign language to place phone calls by signing instead of typing. The VI (video interpreter) uses a webcam or videophone to voice the deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired person's signs to a hearing person and sign the hearing person's words to the deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired person.

Video remote interpreting

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) allows deaf or hard-of-hearing people who use sign language to communicate with hearing people in the same room. VRI addresses one limitation to VRS, which is that VRS cannot be used if the hearing person is in the same room with the deaf or hard-of-hearing person. VRI has proven to be useful for deaf or hard-of-hearing people in business meetings, doctor appointments, minor surgical procedures, and court proceedings.


As much of the TRS system, particularly the Internet Relay Services, is open for public use; it is possible for anyone with the proper equipment to place calls. This includes people who are not members of the original intended user group, who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. Some such users have noted its usefulness in making long-distance or local calls free of charge and without a telephone. Some providers have implemented long-distance billing, which bills long-distance calls just like a regular telephone. Providers defend the accessibility even to people who have neither hearing nor speech disabilities as a necessary evil. This is because the principle of "transparency" — the belief that the operator and the mechanics of relay should generally go as unnoticed as possible in the call — requires that relay be as easy to use as a normal telephone, which does not require any kind of verification for hearing people to use. Leaders in the deaf community defend this decision and generally retain strong support among service users with hearing and speech disabilities.[citation needed]

Fraudulent uses in the United States

The open structure of relay services has led to a number of complaints regarding its use as a vehicle for fraud. In 2004, news outlets such as MSNBC[12] and several newspapers including the Baltimore City Paper [13] ran stories of reported abuse of the relay system, such as users from international locations calling businesses in the United States to fraudulently purchase goods. This has also generated numerous complaints, particularly by those who were employed as relay operators, that so-called "prank calls," where neither user requires the service and the caller is just attempting to have fun with a novel mode of communication. In December 2006, NBC ran another story[14] where former operators alleged that "85 to 90 percent" of calls were scams. Since it is illegal for relay service companies to keep records,[15] fraudulent users can operate with impunity. Fraudulent calls of both types have been cited as reasons for further relay regulation, and as causes for long hold times that must be endured by many legitimate users. Most businesses legally cannot have relay calls blocked due to the need for legitimate users to be accommodated, although businesses that are repeatedly victimized by pranks and/or scams often stop trusting relay calls or hang up on them because it is difficult to distinguish legitimate users from illegitimate ones; this is another way that the abusers of the service ultimately victimize the legitimate users, in addition to tying up the service from them.

In 2006, the FCC launched a campaign to gather feedback from the various Internet Protocol relay-certified companies operating within the United States to fight the wave of relay scams and pranks being made over the service. As brought up in the FCC's released document,[16] users on the IP-based relay services can thus place their calls anonymously, which cannot certify that the user in question really needs operator assistance or not. Furthermore, fraudulent calls of any nature cost millions to the American people yearly (based on the $1.293 per minute fee[17] that is being paid for completed IP-based relay) to various relay providers for successfully completed calls.

Starting in November 2009, to help counter the problem of fraudulent use, the FCC began requiring all users of IP Relay to register their screen names with a default IP Relay provider. This along with many IP Relay providers working to educate hearing users of the risks of fraudulent users (making it less lucrative for fraudulent users who no longer have an uneducated population to target) and other efforts has greatly reduced the amount of fraudulent use of the IP Relay system.

In March 2012, the United States federal government announced a lawsuit against AT&T. The specific accusations state that AT&T "violated the False Claims Act by facilitating and seeking federal payment for IP Relay calls by international callers who were ineligible for the service and sought to use it for fraudulent purposes. The complaint alleges that, out of fears that fraudulent call volume would drop after the registration deadline, AT&T knowingly adopted a non-compliant registration system that did not verify whether the user was located within the United States. The complaint further contends that AT&T continued to employ this system even with the knowledge that it facilitated use of IP Relay by fraudulent foreign callers, which accounted for up to 95 percent of AT&T’s call volume. The government’s complaint alleges that AT&T improperly billed the TRS Fund for reimbursement of these calls and received millions of dollars in federal payments as a result." [18]


  1. (FCC) (2015-01-28). "Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS)". Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Guide. Federal Communications Commission. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2014-10-15. Retrieved 2015-02-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. (Hamilton Telecommunications) (2006-11-16). "Hamilton Relay - TTY (Text Telephone)". Hamilton Relay. Hamilton Relay. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2006-12-24. Retrieved 2007-02-01. Communication Assistant (CA)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. (MCI) (2006-08-24). "Verizon Relay Services". Verizon Global Relay Services. Verizon. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-01-08. Retrieved 2007-02-01. Relay Operator (RO)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. (Sprint) (2006-05-28). "New Zealand Relay". New Zealand Relay. New Zealand Relay. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-02-01. Relay Assistant (RA)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Verizon information brochure GT016707SS-WS
  6. "Captel Availability". Captel. Capital Telecommunications Inc. 2014-08-01. Retrieved 2014-09-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. (Ultratec) The CapTel 800i is available to consumers and works with fairly good accuracy, making it feasible for hearing-impaired persons to utilize the telephone (Nov 2010). It works on most or all telephone systems but also requires an Internet connection. (2004-08-10). "CapTel - How It Works". CapTel - The Captioned Telephone. Ultratec, Inc. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-01-26. Retrieved 2007-02-01. CapTel captioning service transcribes everything the other party says into written text, using the very latest in voice-recognition technology. line feed character in |author= at position 11 (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 (GSA) (2004-10-27). "". U.S. General Services Administration. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-01-30. Retrieved 2007-02-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. (Ultratec) (2005-03-16). "CapTel - The Captioned Telephone". Ultratec, Inc. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-01-26. Retrieved 2007-01-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. (Ultratec) (2006-05-08). "CapTel - WebCapTel". Ultratec, Inc. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-01-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "711 for Telecommunications Relay Service". Federal Communications Commission. Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Edward Erickson Jr. (May 5, 2004). "After News Reports Reveal Widespread Fraud by Users of IP Relay Systems for the Deaf, Companies Mull Changes to the System". City Paper. Archived from the original on March 24, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. TRS History Docket

External links

See also