Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

ODHH: Telecommunication Technology

Telecommunications, Internet, and Video Relay Services

Deaf, Deaf-Blind or hard of hearing people use relay services to make calls to employers, service providers, and businesses. This involves a third party service provider which would be an interpreter or a communication assistant. They relay messages between a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing and others.

Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) is a third party service that allows people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to place calls to standard telephone users via TTY or a CapTel. The third-party service involves a communication assistant or CA. The CA relays the typed message to the hearing person, and types the message spoken by the hearing person to the Deaf or hard of hearing person. Learn about the CapTel Phone.

Internet Relay Service (IP Relay) functions similar to TTY to voice services, replacing the TTY and telephone line with a specialized computer program and internet connection. There are multiple types of computer programs that can be used.

Video Relay Service (VRS): Deaf people use their videophone to call people, services, and businesses through VRS. The Deaf caller connects with an ASL interpreter on the television or computer screen. The interpreter then calls the number the Deaf caller wants to contact, and interprets for both parties. The Deaf and hearing parties have a normal conversation (using first person language) with the interpreter.

Captioned Telephone: This technology allows people who can speak but have a hearing loss to receive word-for-word captions of their telephone conversations. The CapTel phone looks and functions like any traditional phone, with callers talking and listening to each other, but with one very significant difference: captions are provided live for every phone call. The captions are displayed on the phone's built-in screen so the user can read the words while listening to the voice of the other party.

Teletypewriter (TTY): A TTY is a special device with a keyboard and a screen that lets people who are Deaf or hard of hearing use the telephone with a keyboard to communicate, by allowing them to type messages back and forth to one another instead of talking and listening. A TTY is required at both ends of the conversation in order to communicate. If a TTY user is calling a non-TTY user, he or she will use a relay operator to facilitate the call. There is computer software that functions as a TTY online.

Videophone: A videophone, or VP, is now the most popular and preferred way for Deaf people to make calls in American Sign Language (ASL), whether it is a direct call to another person who uses ASL or calling through a Video Relay Service. This technology requires a TV, a camera and high speed internet.

Video Relay Services (partial listing)

Convo VRS
Hamilton Relay
Purple VRS
Sorenson VRS
Sprint Relay

Other ways Deaf and hard of hearing people communicate

Instant Messaging: Deaf and hard of hearing people use instant messaging via their computers or smart phones to communicate with others.

Text Messaging: Deaf and hard of hearing people use cell phones to send and receive email and text messages. This is an especially useful way to alert a Deaf or hard employee of an emergency or danger.

Sign Language Interpreting

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives employees who are Deaf, hard of hearing or Deaf-Blind the right to a qualified interpreter. Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between a employees who are Deaf, hard of hearing or Deaf-Blind and their employers and co-workers.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)

Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a form of sign language interpreting that allows people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to communicate with a hearing person at the same location via videoconferencing equipment. This replaces a live interpreter on site. VRI is especially useful:

  1. There is a lack of available qualified interpreters, such as at a rural location.
  2. When an interpreter is needed immediately and there is no available interpreter on-site.

VRI is provided on a fee-for-service basis by several interpreting agencies. Costs may vary based on whether an interpreter is needed immediately or is scheduled ahead of time.

Captioning Services

There are three kinds of captioning: closed, open and real time. Captions are written texts usually seen at the bottom of a television screen, a movie, a projection screen or on a DVD.

  • Closed captions are usually seen on a television with a decoder chip; most households have TVs purchased after 1992 with the chip. Viewers have the option to turn the caption function on or off.

  • Similar to subtitling, open captions are always visible. They are "burned" onto the video or DVD. No decoder or a built-in TV decoder chip is necessary to view them. Employment and training DVDs should have open captions.

  • Real-time captioning provides simultaneous transcription and is usually provided by trained courtroom reporters. Real-time captioning is often used for one-to-one, small group and large meetings, trainings and conferences.

Federal and State Laws related to communication access

Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (EEOC)

Rights and Laws

Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) (PDF), Statue 111.34 on disability, exemptions and special cases

Reasonable Accommodations for Deaf, Deaf-Blind or Hard of Hearing Employees

Discrimination and Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (National Association of the Deaf)

Working Effectively with Persons Who Are Hard of Hearing, Late-Deafened, or Deaf

Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

Last revised May 19, 2023