What Is a Relay Phone Call?


Telephone companies provide a support service to assist disabled customers in placing and receiving calls. This service is subsidized by the state and federal funds under the telecommunications relay service (TRS). TRS is available throughout the United States for local and long distance calls. These calls are facilitated by an operator at the telephone company who serves as an intermediary with the calling and receiving parties. Depending on the disability, a person can also use specialized equipment for telephone calls.


  • A relay phone call uses an intermediary operator, called a communications assistant to facilitate telephone calls. This service is specifically designed to assist disabled customers and is subsidized by the government. Relay phone calls are not operator-assisted calls that are accessed by dialing "0," such as for international dialing assistance or collect calls; dialing assistance fees are charged directly to the customer. Calls placed using a calling card or access telephone number are not relay calls; these calls provide an economical gateway to access out-of-area dialing to reduce telephone charges.

Text Devices

  • Disabled customers contact communications assistants at the relay service through a TTY device or text input device. Types of TTY devices available include: text-to-voice and captioned telephones that have a keyboard and display for the hearing-impaired to place and receive phone calls. Some captioned relay services use voice recognition technology. Voice carry over devices have a handset and display for the hearing impaired to speak in their own voice but receive typed responses from the communications assistant. Hearing carry over devices allow people with a speech disability to listen to the conversation and type his response for the communications assistant to tell the other party.

Other Devices

  • Some relay call services don't use text input devices. Speech-to-speech services are for those with a speech disability to use a trained communications assistant to vocally repeat (or relay) their responses to the other party; the communications assistant is trained in specific speech disorders to understand patterns. Speech-to-speech is a service that can use a commercially available telephone unit without specialized add-ons. Many states with a large population of non-English speaking residents offer a shared non-English language relay service where communications assistants translate the conversation. Deaf customers can communicate in American Sign Language (ASL) via a video relay service for customer assistants to translate the conversation.


  • The equipment for relay services are usually specialized devices, and the communications assistants at the telephone company are highly trained to facilitate different types of relay calls. The features of the devices allow the disabled customer to carry on conversations and to place emergency calls (911). The devices can connect directly to a relay service provider, or customers needing relay assistance can dial "711" on their telephone.


  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set minimum standards for relay telephone services. As a result, improvements and expanded service hours are being implemented. Internet technology is also expanding the services for relay services and disabled customers for improved speech recognition, video conferencing and texting access.

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