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What is the Telecommunications Relay Service?

The Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) charges may appear on your invoice each month. Do you how know these funds are used to help those with hearing and speech disabilities? Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) enable standard voice telephone users to talk to people who have difficulty hearing or speaking on the telephone. Under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act, all telephone companies must provide free relay services either directly or through state programs throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all of the U.S. territories. These services are used everyday by businesses, government agencies, family, friends and employers of persons with hearing and speech disabilities.

How does TRS work?
TRS uses operators or “Communication Assistants” (CAs), to facilitate telephone calls for people who have difficulty hearing or speaking. TRS is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, free of charge, and the conversations relayed are kept completely confidential. Callers are not limited in the type, length or nature of their calls.

What number do I call to connect to a TRS operator?
Just as you can call 411 for information, you can dial 7-1-1 to connect to relay services anywhere in the United States. For more information regarding 711, visit http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/711.html.

What Forms of TRS Are Available?
There are several forms of TRS, depending on the particular needs of the user and the equipment available.

  • Text-to-Voice TTY-based TRS – With this type of “traditional” TRS, a person with a hearing or speech disability uses a special text telephone, called a TTY, to call the CA at the relay center. TTYs have a keyboard and allow people to type their telephone conversations. The text is read on a display screen and/or a paper printout. A TTY user calls a TRS relay center and types the number of the person he or she wishes to call. The CA at the relay center then makes a voice telephone call to the other party to the call, and relays the call back and forth between the parties by speaking what a text user types, and typing what a voice telephone user speaks.
  • Voice Carry Over – Voice Carry Over (VCO) is a type of TRS that allows a person with a hearing disability, but who wants to use his or her own voice, to speak directly to the called party and receive responses in text from the CA. No typing is required by the calling party. This service is particularly useful to senior citizens who have lost their hearing, but who can still speak.
  • Hearing Carry Over – Hearing Carry Over (HCO) is a type of TRS that allows a person with a speech disability, but who wants to use his/her own hearing, to listen to the called party and type his/her part of the conversation on a TTY. The CA reads these words to the called party, and the caller hears responses directly from the called party.
  • Speech-to-Speech (STS) Relay Service – This form of TRS is used by a person with a speech disability. A CA, who is specially trained in understanding a variety of speech disorders, repeats what the caller says in a manner that makes the caller’s words clear and understandable to the called party. No special telephone is needed. For more information regarding STS visit http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/speechtospeech.html.
  • Shared Non-English Language Relay Services – Due to the large number of Spanish speakers in the United States, the FCC requires interstate TRS providers to offer Spanish-to-Spanish traditional TRS. Although Spanish language relay is not required for intrastate (within a state) TRS, many states with large numbers of Spanish speakers offer this service on a voluntary basis. The FCC also allows TRS providers who voluntarily offer other shared non-English language interstate TRS, such as French-to-French, to be compensated from the federal TRS fund.
  • Captioned Telephone Service – Captioned telephone service, like VCO, is used by persons with a hearing disability but some residual hearing. It uses a special telephone that has a text screen to display captions of what the other party to the conversation is saying. A captioned telephone allows the user, on one line, to speak to the called party and to simultaneously listen to the other party and read captions of what the other party is saying. There is a “two-line” version of captioned telephone service that offers additional features, such as call-waiting, *69, call forwarding, and direct dialing for 911 emergency service. Unlike traditional TRS (where the CA types what the called party says), the CA repeats or re-voices what the called party says. Speech recognition technology automatically transcribes the CA’s voice into text, which is then transmitted directly to the user’s captioned telephone text display.
  • Video Relay Service (VRS) – This Internet-based form of TRS allows persons whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with the CA in ASL using video conferencing equipment. The CA speaks what is signed to the called party, and signs the called party’s response back to the caller. VRS is not required by the FCC, but is offered by several TRS providers. VRS allows conversations to flow in near real time and in a faster and more natural manner than text-based TRS. Beginning January 1, 2006, TRS providers that offer VRS must provide it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and must answer incoming calls within a specific period of time so that VRS users do not have to wait for a long time. For more information regarding VRS visit http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/videorelay.html.
  • Internet Protocol (IP) Relay Service – IP Relay is a text-based form of TRS that uses the Internet, rather than traditional telephone lines, for the leg of the call between the person with a hearing or speech disability and the CA. Otherwise, the call is generally handled just like a TTY-based TRS call. The user may use a computer or other web-enabled device to communicate with the CA. IP Relay is not required by the FCC, but is offered by several TRS providers. For more information regarding IP Relay visit http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/iprelay.html.
  • IP Captioned Telephone Service – IP captioned telephone service, one of the newest forms of TRS, combines elements of captioned telephone service and IP Relay. IP captioned telephone service can be provided in a variety of ways, but uses the Internet – rather than the telephone network – to provide the link and captions between the caller with a hearing disability and the CA. It allows the user to simultaneously both listen to, and read the text of, what the other party in a telephone conversation is saying. IP captioned telephone service can be used with an existing voice telephone and a computer or other Web-enabled device without requiring any specialized equipment. For more information regarding IP captioned telephone service, visit http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/ipcaptioned.html.

For More Information
For more information about TRS or to learn more about FCC programs to promote access to telecommunications services for people with disabilities, visit the FCC’s Disability Rights Office Web site at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro. For information about other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau Web site at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center using the information provided for filing a complaint.

Don't Hang Up!

Some people hang up on TRS calls because they think the CA is a telemarketer. If you hear “Hello, this is the relay service” when you pick up the phone, please don’t hang up! You are about to talk, through a TRS provider, to a person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing, or has a speech disability.

Updated on June 10, 2016

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