Copied from the FCC's "Consumer Guide To Telecommunications Relay Service"


The Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) enables standard voice telephone users to talk to people who have difficulty hearing or speaking on the telephone. You may know someone who would love this free telephone service! The FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau would like to thank Maryland Relay and Gallaudet University's Technology Assessment Program for their assistance with this Consumers' Guide.

How the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Works:

Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) operators, called communications assistants, are always available. When you place a call through this free telephone service, a communications assistant will very quickly convert the words you say into typed words, so that your friend who has difficulty hearing on the phone can read your words. Your friend can answer you verbally, or type a response that a communications assistant reads to you. In order to communicate this way, your friend will need a phone used by persons with hearing and speech disabilities, called a TTY.

diagram of call between TTY user and caller, aided by a communications assistant
Calls between TTY users and voice users
are aided by a communications assistant

Examples of Callers That Use the Relay Service:

a young man is using a cordless phone

Teenager calling his
grandmother, who has a
hearing disability, via TRS

People who can hear and speak clearly can make or receive relay calls. Many places of business, government agencies, family, friends, employers of persons with hearing and speech disabilities make and receive relay calls everyday! And they don’t need special equipment to use relay!

a woman is talking on a phone
Senior executive who is hard
of hearing using her own
voicevia TRS.

People who can speak clearly but have difficulty hearing can place or receive calls through the relay service. Many people in this category are senior citizens. This type of relay call is Voice Carry Over (VCO) because the hard of hearing person's voice is "carried over" to the other party. When they begin to use the relay service, they are thrilled to be able to understand every word of a telephone conversation. In this category, no typing is required, except by a communications assistant. Everything that the other person says is typed by a communications assistant and the words appear as text on the VCO user's TTY or VCO phone. That makes this kind of relay call very easy to use.

a man listens on a phone, then types a response on a keypad
Man with speech disability listening to other party's
voice, and then typing his part of conversation,
via TRS.

People who can hear clearly but have difficulty speaking on the phone can place or receive calls using the relay service. This type of relay call is Hearing Carry Over (HCO) because the person with a speech disability is able to "hear" the other party's voice. HCO users can type what they want to say using a special telephone, called a TTY (text telephone). A communications assistant then reads their words to the person they called. Three-way calling is necessary for a HCO call.

People who communicate best with sign language. Individuals who use sign language can make relay calls through communications assistants who can interpret their calls. The caller signs to the communications assistant with the use of video equipment, and the communications assistant voices what is signed to the called party. This type of relay service is called Video Relay Service, and it is not offered by all state TRS programs. This option is great for people who use American Sign Language (ASL), which is different from written English. It is also great for people who cannot type on a TTY phone easily, such as children who are ASL users.

1 2 3
 three part schematic showing a  communications assistant reading sign language on computer and voicing her interpretation into telephone to other party

1. Person signing
to computer
and camera;

2. Communications assistant
reading sign language
on computer and voicing
her interpretation into
telephone to other party;

3. Person using
regular phone
to hear original
caller's words,as
voiced by the VRS

a speech-to-speech relay call
Dr. Bob Segalman demonstrating
a speech-to-speech relay call
to his mother in front
of FCC Commissioners.

People whose speech is difficult to understand. No special telephone is needed for this option. A person with a speech disability talks to a communications assistant with special training in listening and understanding a variety of speech disorders. The communications assistant repeats everything, making the caller's words clear and understandable. This type of relay is called speech-to-speech relay services (STS).

a boy using a phone
Boy receiving TRS call.

Don't hang up! Some people hang up on relay calls because they think the communications assistant is a telemarketer. If you answer the phone and hear, "Hello, this is the Relay Service. Have you received a relay call before?" -- please don't hang up. Congratulations! You are about to talk to a person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing, or has a speech disability on your phone!

Frequently Asked Questions