National Association of the Deaf

Telephone and Relay Services



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Many older deaf and hard of hearing Americans remember relying on their families, friends, or neighbors to make a simple phone call. Today, deaf and hard of hearing people are empowered by having more accessible telephone products and services, including hearing aid compatible phones. In the last 20 years, a wide range of voice, text, and video relay services and technologies have also been developed that enable consumer choice of language and mode of communication to access the telephone network.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandated a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services to make the telephone network accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech impairments. Relay services enable deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate in a manner that is as close to “functionally equivalent” as possible to the communications enjoyed by telephone users. Relay services also provide access to 9-1-1 emergency call centers; operate 24/7; are provided free to relay users; and comply with strict confidentiality requirements. Initially available for users of teletypewriters (TTYs), new technologies give consumers choices: voice carry-over; hearing carry-over; captioned telephone service; and Internet-based communication through text relay services (Internet Protocol or IP Relay), video relay services (VRS), and captioned telephone services.

The NAD works diligently to improve access to the telephone network through innovation in relay services, technologies, and equipment, and the through the development of strong public policies.

Recent NAD Action Highlights

  • Germano v. International Profit Association – Joined as co-counsel in 2008 on appeal of employment discrimination case alleging refusal to hire because of deafness. This case raised an issue of first impression: whether a statement made through a telecommunications relay service constitutes inadmissible hearsay. Presented oral argument before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded the case for trial. Defendants filed for reconsideration, which was denied. The matter was later resolved.
  • Successfully advocated for an FCC order establishing enhanced 9-1-1 emergency call handling procedure and a 10-digit numbering system for Internet-based relay services.
  • Filed, with other consumer groups, a petition for reconsideration with the FCC on the issue of limiting 10-digit numbers for video devices to people who are deaf or hard of hearing; lifting this restriction would enable direct video communication between ASL users, regardless of hearing status.
  • Prepared and submitted, with other consumer groups, a request for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to modify its request for proposals for California relay services. Consumer groups requested rescission of the provision requiring captione