Telecommunications relay service
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2010)|
||This article may require copy editing for capitalization. (November 2013)|
Telecommunications Relay Service, also known as TRS, Relay Service, or IP-Relay, or Web-based relay services, 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 (TTY) or other assistive telephone device. Services have gradually 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 relay service was established by Converse Communications of Connecticut in 1974.
- 1 Types of service available
- 1.1 TTY to Voice/Voice to TTY
- 1.2 Voice Carry Over
- 1.3 Hearing Carry Over
- 1.4 Speech to Speech
- 1.5 DeafBlind variation
- 1.6 Captioned telephone
- 1.7 Other variations
- 1.8 IP Relay Service or Web-based text relay services
- 1.9 Video Relay Service
- 1.10 Video Remote Interpreting
- 2 Accessibility
- 3 Fraudulent uses in the United States
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Types of service available
Depending on the technical and physical abilities, as well as 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, (also known as Communication Assistant (CA), Relay Operator (RO), Relay Assistant (RA), or Relay Agent (Agent)), and vice-versa. This allows callers unable to use a regular telephone to be able to place telephone 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 hanging up and vice-versa. This mode of communication has largely been superseded by various other modes of communications, including the utilization of IP Relay, VPs, VRS, and VRI.
Voice Carry Over
A common kind of call is Voice Carry Over (VCO). VCO allows a person who is Hard-of-Hearing or Deaf and does speak to use one's voice while receiving responses from a person who is Hearing via the operator's typed text. There are many variations of VCO, including 2-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.
2-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 3-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 2-Line VCO, the VCO user and the voice user can interrupt each other. VCO with Privacy cannot be used with 2-Line VCO, because the operator, VCO user, and Hearing person are on a 3-way call.
Hearing Carry Over
A less common call type is Hearing Carry Over (HCO). HCO allows a person who is Speech-Disabled and can hear to use one's 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 2-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.
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 3-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 3–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 2–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 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 .
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.
A new method for people who are Hard-of-Hearing, Oral Deaf or Late–Deafened to make phone calls is called a captioned telephone (also called captioned relay or Cap-Tel). 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 the main 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 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.
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.
CapTel can also be used with 2 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.
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.
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. 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 that the call is originating from 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, etc.
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–Disabled. 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.
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 and several newspapers including the Baltimore City Paper  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  where former operators alleged that "85 to 90 percent" of calls were scams. Since it is illegal for relay service companies to keep records, 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.
Relay operators are legally required to relay all communication between the parties without making any judgments, and if an operator does anything to contravene this duty such as warning the hearing user of a possible prank/scam, the operator would likely be terminated from his/her job and face legal penalties. Therefore, pranksters abusing the service can force and enslave the relay operators to say whatever the pranksters want, even profanity or terroristic threats, and there is nothing the operators or the relay providers can do about it—the operators must speak every word faithfully. In fact, the relay companies profit by servicing prank and scam calls because they are paid the service fees by the government for doing so (even though they don't have a choice). The pranksters use the relay operators as their personal voice puppets. Some pranksters have ways to be conferenced into the voice call (such as by placing a three-way call) to listen to and record the voice side of the conversation, while they simultaneously act as the typing TTY user. Some relay calls are both scams and pranks simultaneously, such as placing phony orders for on-location services such as taxicab, locksmith, pizza-delivery, etc. against an unsuspecting victim. One variant of the relay prank is for entertainment purposes, when there is no call-receiving victim at all, but rather the prankster calls him/herself by relay and uses the operator as a narrator for things like poems, song lyrics that the prankster plays music to, raps, etc., in which the prankster records the narration and posts it on websites like YouTube. In some relay pranks the pranksters force the operators to self-referentially insult themselves, cuss out their supervisors, speak ill of their workplace, etc., which sometimes confuses the operators and causes them to ask for supervisor assistance. Operators are usually trained well enough (or inured to the work they do) that they dispassionately dictate everything in prank calls call without cracking up regardless of how ridiculous the content of what they are saying may be.
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, 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 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." 
- (MCI) (2006-08-24). "Verizon Relay Services". Verizon Global Relay Services. Verizon. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2007-02-01. "OPR Operator"
- (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)"
- (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)"
- (Sprint) (2006-05-28). "New Zealand Relay". New Zealand Relay. New Zealand Relay. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-02-01. "Relay Assistant (RA)"
- Verizon information brochure GT016707SS-WS
- (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."
- (GSA) (2004-10-27). "www.federalrelay.us". www.federalrelay.us. U.S. General Services Administration. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-01-30. Retrieved 2007-02-01.
- (Ultratec) (2005-03-16). "CapTel - The Captioned Telephone". Ultratec, Inc. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-01-26. Retrieved 2007-01-29.
- (Ultratec) (2006-05-08). "CapTel - WebCapTel". Ultratec, Inc. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-01-29.
- TRS History Docket
- FCC Consumer Facts
- "How to purchase a CapTel phone" - February 9th, 2009
- "Hamilton WebCapTel" - February 9th, 2009
- "Sprint WebCapTel" - February 9th, 2009