Sunday, August 20, 2000

Phone service big step forward

New 711 prefix to access TTY lines nationwide

        Jeff Carroll carries three telephone numbers in his head: one for the Ohio deaf relay service and two for Kentucky. In his professional capacity as advocate and education specialist for the Hearing Speech and Deaf Center of Greater Cincinnati, as well as in his personal life as a man who is deaf, these phone numbers are a lifeline of sorts to telephone communication to people who can hear throughout the Tristate.

        Like millions of Americans who are deaf, Mr. Carroll communicates on the phone by using communications assistants at deaf relay centers. He types his part of the conversation on a TTY (text telephone) which is then read aloud by the relay operator to the hearing individual at the other end; when conversation is spoken, the operator then types that communication to be read on Mr. Carroll's TTY screen.

    To contact the Ohio Relay Service via TTY or voice, call (800) 750-0750. In Kentucky, the number for voice callers is (800) 648-6057, and for TTY callers (800) 648-6056.

        Relay services have been a tremendous breakthrough for individuals with speech or hearing disabilities, but each state has its own seven- or 10-digit number (or, as in Kentucky, two numbers — one for TTY callers and one for callers who speak and hear).

        A new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling has changed all that.

        The July 21 ruling issued by the FCC directs that a nationwide 711 dialing provision will connect callers anywhere, anytime, to the local Telephone Relay Service (TRS). Section 225 of the Telecommunications Act, added by the Americans with Disabilities Act, mandated an equalizing of telephone services for people with speech and hearing disabilities to that enjoyed by individuals able to speak and hear.

        The rule applies to all telecommunications carriers in the United States, including wireline, Commercial Mobile Radio Services, and pay phone providers.

        “If I was on vacation in California,” Mr. Carroll commented, “and didn't know the number of the local relay service, I wouldn't have much choice other than to find someone to make a phone call for me . . . If there was time and a telephone book, I could look up the local relay service number, but that wouldn't help in an emergency.”

        Sometimes, the simplest things are taken for granted. By the end of next summer, people who are deaf or unable to speak will be able to use a TTY, simply call 711, and immediately be in touch with the local relay center. Whether you are on vacation calling home, checking in with your office, or making an emergency medical call, that's an important part of what it means to be American. Equally significant is that the hearing/speaking friends and loved ones of deaf people can more easily call them, too.

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. E-mail:


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