Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.


Office of Disability Rights

DC Agency Top Menu

-A +A
Bookmark and Share

Telecommunications Relay Service and TTY Guide

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Telecommunications Relay Service and TTY Guide - Communicating with People Who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This resource provides guidance on how to use the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) or the TTY (text telephone) machine when communicating with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.

What is a TTY (text telephone/TDD)?

Looking much like a typewriter keypad with a text screen, a TTY allows an individual who is deaf, hard-of-hearing or has a speech difficulty to make and receive telephone calls. The conversation is read on a lighted display screen and/or a paper printout on the TTY. Persons using a TTY may call any standard phone user by placing the call through Telecommunications Relay Service, or they may call another TTY user directly.

There are two general types of TTYs.  Acoustic TTYs have cups where a standard telephone handset is placed to receive or place the TTY call.  Direct connect TTYs are directly connected to a telephone line.

Using a TTY

To communicate by TTY, you type the message you want to send on the TTY's keyboard. As you type, the message is sent over the phone line, just like your voice would be sent over the phone line if you talked. You can read the other person's response on the TTY's text display.

Using the Telecommunications Relay Service - 711

If you don't have a TTY, you can still call or receive calls from a person who is deaf, hard of hearing, or has a speech difficulty by using the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). With TRS, an operator types whatever you say so that the person you are calling can read your words on his or her TTY display. He or she will type back a response, which the TRS operator will read aloud for you to hear over the phone. There are also “IP” Relays, for which a person with a disability uses a computer to type their side of the conversation to the operator over the internet.

Toll free TRS services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  You can dial 711 to connect to TRS anywhere in the United States.

Guidance for Making Traditional TTY Calls

  1. Place the telephone handset in the acoustic coupler (modem) of the TTY and turn on the power. Two small lights will come on. Only the power light will stay on: the phone light waits to respond to any sounds picked up by the acoustic coupler.
  2. Dial the telephone number and watch the TTY light, which shows the dial tone, busy signal, or ringing by corresponding light patterns. The light remains on for the length of the sound and goes off when there is no sound.  For example, the light flashes rapidly and rhythmically with a busy signal.
  3. The person answering the TTY will respond with his or her name and a short message followed by “GA” which means “go ahead.”
  4. You start typing at this point and identify yourself.
  5. To end a turn in the conversation, type “GA”, and the other person will begin typing again. Each person is expected to take a turn only after receiving a “GA” from the other party.
  6. When you are done with your conversation, type “GA to SK”, meaning “go ahead to stop keying” or “good-bye”, to let the person know you are finished with talking on the TTY.
  7. A TTY message in process cannot be interrupted, even if one knows what the other person is going to type.
  8. TTY and TTY Relay calls may take a little longer than voice calls.  Please be patient.

TTY Etiquette

  1. When calling TTY users, let the phone ring at least 7 or more times before hanging up.  Many TTY users rely on flashing lights to alert them to ringing phones. Flashers can take longer than sound to attract attention.
  2. Callers should identify themselves at the beginning of calls. Any other people watching the conversation also should be identified.  
  3. Always tell TTY users when calls are going to be put on “hold” or transferred.
  4. When TTY users type “Can you read me?” they want to know if the message is clear and without garbled letters and numbers.  If the message is garbled, hit the space bar a few times. If this does not clear up the message, both parties should hang up and try the call again.

Time-saving Quick Tips

To save time, common English abbreviations frequently are used. In addition, some punctuation, articles, or prepositions are omitted when it does not interfere with meaning.

Common TTY Abbreviations

GA "go ahead"
U "You
XXX "mistake"
HD "hold"
Q "question mark or "?"
MSG "message"
THX "thanks"
TMW "tomorrow"
BEC or CUZ "because"
SK "stop keying" or "goodbye"
GA or SK "completing all messages and getting ready to hang up"