TTY/TDD Communication Services for Federal Contact Centers

What It Is

Text Telephones (TTY), also known as Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), are used by the deaf, hard–of–hearing, and individuals with speech impairments to communicate. There are more than 6 million deaf individuals in the United States, according to a Gallaudet University estimate.

The process is similar to chat on computers, where one person types text to the other on these devices. Both individuals in the conversation must have a TTY at each end of the telephone line in order to communicate. Some TTYs can be connected to the phone line by placing the telephone handset in an acoustic coupler; others can connect directly to the phone line.

Why It's Important

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d), as amended, requires that individuals with disabilities, who are seeking information or services from a federal agency, have access to—and use of—information and data that is comparable to that provided to members of the public who do not have disabilities. This requirement may be waived if an agency can demonstrate that the provision of such a service would impose an undue burden on the agency.

The use of TTYs enables the agency to comply with the law by extending its service offerings to people who are deaf, hard–of-hearing, or speech impaired.

How To Implement

There are a few ways you can serve people who are deaf, hard–of–hearing, or speech impaired through the use of TTYs:

  1. You can establish a separate TTY phone number, provide the necessary TTY/TDD equipment, and staff your center with TTY proficient agents to serve these customers. Your call volume and customer service goals will likely dictate whether you’ll answer the calls in real–time or call the callers back at a later time. For low call volume, you can provide a recorded text message informing the callers to leave their phone number for a callback later. For higher call volume, you’ll have to provide sufficient equipment and staff capacity to handle the incoming calls in real–time.
  2. You can educate and encourage your TTY callers to take advantage of the national "711" Telecommunications Relay Service, if your TTY call volume is low or if you don’t have TTY proficient agents. The relay service allows people to dial “711” to access all relay services anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, free of any surcharges to all callers within the country. The advantage of this arrangement is that you won’t have to set up and publicize a separate TTY phone number for your center, provide the necessary TTY equipment, and your agents can answer the calls in real–time just like they do for other callers. 

Do TTY Numbers Need To Be Listed In Telephone Directories?

It is recommended that you not list your TTY number, unless you serve a large population of deaf, hard–of–hearing, and hearing–impaired individuals or have some other reasons to list both numbers. Listing the TTY number alongside a regular voice number tends to confuse the non–TTY callers who call the TTY number by mistake. Listing the additional number can also add to telephone directory listing charges that you incur on an ongoing basis. The TTY users can use the 711 relay service and your agents can tell them the direct–dial TTY number to use the next time.



Content Lead: Tonya Beres
Page Reviewed/Updated: November 6, 2012

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