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What is Relay Service?

Lesone Sams, Arizona Relay Service | Mar 11, 2013, midnight

In this day and age of email, social media and texting, many people take talking over the phone for granted. That being said, phone calls are still the most preferred method of personal communication, and its digital alternative is nowhere nearly as universally accepted.

A large part of the population has yet to embrace social media, most of whom are senior citizens and retired individuals. Paradoxically, nearly half of this demographic is hard of hearing, potentially making it difficult, if not impossible, to use telephones.

And they’re not alone. It is estimated that there are more than 55 million people in the United States experiencing some degree of hearing loss. In Arizona, there are more than 700,000 people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

But this doesn’t mean they are left out of the conversation. A service exists in Arizona that provides multiple communication options that allow individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have difficulty speaking to have that instant form of communication with their loved ones while maintaining their independence.

Arizona Relay Services (AZRS) is a public service provided by the state of Arizona and administered by Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. The use of the service is free of cost for all parties involved (although long distance charges do apply,) be it hard of hearing to hearing individuals, deaf to those with speech difficulties mute, or any combination. It is easy to use, confidential and available across the state.

So how does it work? Callers wishing to speak with a deaf or hard of hearing person, and vice versa, can contact AZRS and be put in touch with a communications assistant who will facilitate the call. Hearing individuals can speak their side of the conversation, which is then relayed to the other person by a specially trained communications assistant. In turn, the person with hearing or speech loss can respond using a communication device which is then transmitted by the communications assistant to the other person. If a communication device is needed, qualifying individuals can receive it at no charge through the Arizona Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program (AzTEDP). Other times, the services simply require a computer and Internet access.

Some of the services provided by AZRS include:

• Teletypewriter (TTY) to voice and vice versa;

• Voice Carry Over (VCO);

• Hearing Carry Over;

• Speech to Speech;

• Spanish; and

• Captioned Telephone, or CapTel.

The goal of AZRS is to remove the loss of freedom or the feeling of isolation that can be associated with hearing loss. By taking advantage of this free service, Arizonans who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have difficulty speaking can continue to stay in touch with their loved ones in the hearing communities, regardless of where they live.

For more information about AZRS and the services provided, please visit www.azrelay.org.

Lesone “Lee” R. Sams is an outreach manager for Arizona Relay Service, which is administered by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. As an outreach manager, Sams works to raise awareness and promote the different types of relay services available for the deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind or speech-disabled communities throughout the state. Sams is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a master’s in rehabilitation counseling and also teaches American Sign Language at Paradise Valley Community College.

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