The Deaf in America are, many times, unable to make a text phone call via the internet because Hearing teenaged pranksters and professional foreign scammers are using the service instead. IP Relay allows a Deaf person to go to a website and place a phone call by typing in the phone number they want to call. A live Operator will dial the call and then voice whatever the Deaf person types and also type whatever is spoken back in response to the Deaf caller.

Two of the most popular online IP Relay services are provided by MCI and Sprint. The abuse happens when non-Deaf people get online and use the IP Relay service to place phony phone calls, to harass friends, to steal money and to stalk women. As interpreters, Relay Operators are required to be transparent and to type and voice everything said on each side of the conversation so the opportunity to force a Relay Operator into voicing obscenities or to press them into asking for money are too irresistible for the immature and immoral to resist. You can read more about the problem here:

Stop Relay Abuse.

If you ever receive a Relay call please do not hang up on the Deaf caller. 85% of Relay calls are placed to those who have never before experienced a call and most of the people just hang up. If you answer the phone and you hear something like, “This is IP Relay Operator 3126 calling; have you experienced a Relay call before?”

Please stay on the line and continue the conversation. It takes three times longer to hold a typed three party conversation than it does to have a spoken one, so be prepared for a delay between what you say, when it is typed to the Deaf person and the Deaf person types a response and the Relay Operator reads it back to you. You will need to curry all of your kindness and patience to hold a successful Relay conversation and if you’re too busy to be bothered by a Relay call, think about the 99% hang up rate on Deaf callers when they try to place a pizza delivery order or to call for a taxi. Relay calls via the internet are not cheap.

They get billed at $1.45 per minute. All IP Relay calls are currently free to all parties — but in the end we all pay because IP Relay is sponsored by the Federal government. While the IP Relay companies do not appreciate the pranksters and the profiteers using their system, in the end, it isn’t an issue for them to care enough to police because they are paid no matter who uses the service for whatever reason. The Deaf suffer when their services are stolen by those who don’t need them because the Deaf cannot get through to an operator in an emergency or when they have a vital call to make.

The hard-won Elysian Fields of semi-even plane communication and equal access finally tended by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 are today too often pillaged for profanity and profit. When you see an able-bodied person using the handicapped automatic door opener for a building so they can waltz through where only wheelchairs are meant to pass, you are witnessing the same selfish behavior that is ruining IP Relay for the Deaf.

29 Comments

  1. I would have never guessed that people would abuse such a system for their own gain. But, I am not surprised now that you brought it up. I don’t know what the solution is to the problem, except to teach our kids better and to know right from wrong.
    Thanks for describing the protocol the operator uses when they call. I’d be tempted to hang up on any call that isn’t “normal” assuming it was from a telemarketer.

  2. Hi Chris!
    Thanks for the fine comment. One solution is to have a national database of the Deaf that would require a username and password for IP Relay access. That may be asking a lot in a dangerous situation, however, and if we’re talking equal access, requiring a Deaf person to input a username and password to place a 911 call via IP Relay call could cost lives when the non-disabled can just pick up a phone and dial without identity confirmation.
    I agree the IP Relay Operator greeting is cold and formal. I think it would be much better to start off saying something immediately personal, if possible, like “Hi Chris…” just so you know the person calling you knows you.

  3. I worked in a callcenter and took some relay calls. Our training was really good about it and we were told to pay extra attention to those kinds of calls. Usually got thanked very profusely afterwards so it was always worth the effort.
    David, I think you link to a site about ASL or similar, do you sign?

  4. Hello fruey!
    I am thrilled to hear your call center cared to carefully train you concerning Relay calls!
    When we lived in the Bronx I visited a local police precinct to help out one of the residents and the officer answering the regular Hearing phone was “typing up” all the messages for the other officers on the TTY machine printer that was supposed to be used to only answer 911 emergency calls from the Deaf. His fingers were flying over that keyboard. When I asked him why he was using that TTY intended for Deaf communication, he looked caught for a second, and then told me to move along. The lobby was small so there wasn’t much opportunity to move… :mrgreen:
    When I told Janna that story she became upset because TTYs are notoriously sensitive devices that frequently break and she didn’t like the TTY being used for such a lazy reason. My response was the opposite. I was happy the officer was comfortable enough to “practice” using the TTY so when an emergency call came in — and they did often because of our nearby building full of the Deaf and disabled — he would recognize the distinctive sound of the TTY on the other end and actually type to talk to the person.
    Yes, I use American Sign Language and I have taught ASL at NYU and other places. Janna, my lovely wife of 17 years was born Deaf. We are finishing up a book we wrote together for Barnes and Noble Publishing called Hand Jive: American Sign Language for Real Life that is due in the Spring and we also run the Hardcore ASL website where we soon will be putting up some really interesting stuff!

  5. Hey Ms. Robin!
    Blogging has a lot of untapped power and potential. There is so much bad blogging out there it drowns out the ability for most people to see how this kind of community can push the world and support calls for change and understanding.

  6. Heya suzanne!
    Thanks for the nice feedback! I would love to do a book about blogging. I have a totally new way the medium should be attacked and exploited — all for the good of us all! 🙂
    Umm… I hate to correct you on your own blog title… but it really MUST be The I Love Lucy Cam — leave the “blog” out of the title because that isn’t the pull to the site — the “Cam” is the twist on the joke of the title reference. 😉

  7. How pathetic can people be! It’s just infuriating to see others take advantage of what people with special needs require.
    My husband’s grandmother has dealt with polio all her life. She’s always had to use some sort of assitive device to get around, and when he and I are out somewhere and he sees someone who doesn’t have the proper tag displayed parked in a spot reserved for handicapped individuals, he gets livid. He’s reported people often to management, but sometimes I worry he might just go off and key someone’s car or something! :-l

  8. Thanks for the story, Carla!
    Again, this all points to the majority power pushing their will and the system against those in the minority but this time instead of rich vs. poor we have able vs. disabled.
    The aftereffects of Polio can be a rough thing to deal with and I had a grade school teacher who had to deal with a paralyzed arm. Not many young people today know about the disabling ravages of Polio or Scarlet Fever or RH-Factor conflicts…

  9. Yes, my husband’s grandmother has managed some amazing achievements throughout her life despite her disability.
    Not to get too far off subject, but she went from a baby who would never live past her toddler years to a girl who would never walk, to a woman who would never be able to get pregnant, to an expectant mother who wouldn’t live through the pregnancy, to a woman who delivered a healthy baby girl.
    She has come back from a car accident that punctured her liver, a stroke that left her unable to speak and an ovarian cyst that had grown so large it nearly killed her!
    She has constantly proven the medical pundits wrong, and she’s a smart, funny woman who never lets her mind rest.

  10. I’ve often wanted to learn how to sign. First of all a friend at university taught me some basic British sign, but I’ve forgotten most of it. Then in France I learned a bit of French sign, and I also found out ASL is not the same as BSL and I’ve even heard people thinking that sign was universal (wouldn’t it be great if it was, though?).
    One of the toughest things I was taught about sign was from an (platonic) girlfriend’s father who taught BSL. He said you used different physical spaces for referencing different concepts or groups of people that you were using in the same conversation. I find it fascinating watching people sign. Just never had the chance to learn, mainly because all the language I have learnt (French, German, Moroccan) has been by using it every day with people. So I guess you have to get to know a few deaf people to get motivated. I have a very limited social circle because I’ve moved around so much, but one day I hope to have the opportunity to learn some sign language of one type or another…

  11. Heya fruey!
    It’s pretty cool you have an interest in sign! There was an attempt to create a “universal sign language” but it met the same fate as Spanglish. Now when the Deaf from other nations get together they mainly use mime to communicate.
    In New York, Janna provides a lot of services to Chinese, Taiwanese and Russian Deaf and they all have their own culture of sign. It can be extremely confusing trying to relearn all the vocabulary but she loves every instant of it.
    ASL is not English — it actually has a French grammar because it was invented by Laurent Clerc along with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet — and students who know French do really well with ASL.
    Anyway… so there’s this Deaf Russian couple and all they know is Russian sign language. They bring an interpreter with them who does not speak or write English, but he does know ASL. So you have a Deaf Russian couple speaking through a Deaf Russian interpreter who then translates into ASL for Janna who then translates it into English to set up their services. Then it all flows the other way when Janna has a question. It’s a long process! 🙂
    BSL sounds really interesting. If you have any links, send ’em over!

  12. Thanks for the link, fruey, it looks quite good!
    You will be a natural for ASL because of your expertise in French. You already pretty much know the grammar — and that’s the toughest thing for English speakers to comprehend.
    Here’s a quick example:
    I went to school for my science class last week.
    Translates into pure ASL and not PSE (Pidgin Signed English) or SEE (Signing Exact English) as:
    (last-week + go-to + school + for-for + science)
    PSE is taught a lot as “American Sign Language” and that’s a big problem for those who use ASL.

  13. Thanks for the link, fruey, it looks quite good!
    You will be a natural for ASL because of your expertise in French. You already pretty much know the grammar — and that’s the toughest thing for English speakers to comprehend.
    Here’s a quick example:
    I went to school for my science class last week.
    Translates into pure ASL and not PSE (Pidgin Signed English) or SEE (Signing Exact English) as:
    (last-week + go-to + school + for-for + science)
    PSE is taught a lot as “American Sign Language” and that’s a big problem for those who use ASL.

  14. Finally!!!
    I was mad because someone Relay’d me, and at first I thought it was one of my friends screwing with me because i’m deaf, but it was one of those pranksters. So I get on google, and this is what i found!!
    I’m happy that i’m not the only one, that other people want this problem fixed.
    I would gladly be a part of the “database” for the Relay network.
    P.S.
    Most people in Europe use ASL, i found on my trip to Germany, but if you want to learn a signing form, i recommend English sign language (not BSL, the one where there’s a sign for everything, including “a” and “it”, and so forth).

  15. Finally!!!
    I was mad because someone Relay’d me, and at first I thought it was one of my friends screwing with me because i’m deaf, but it was one of those pranksters. So I get on google, and this is what i found!!
    I’m happy that i’m not the only one, that other people want this problem fixed.
    I would gladly be a part of the “database” for the Relay network.
    P.S.
    Most people in Europe use ASL, i found on my trip to Germany, but if you want to learn a signing form, i recommend English sign language (not BSL, the one where there’s a sign for everything, including “a” and “it”, and so forth).

  16. Tonight I had an amazing experience! I think I have found my dream occupation. I have been answering the telephone at business for about 4 years. Tonight I came across an IP relay call,ever sense,all I have been thinking about is that 20 min. I have always been curious on how I could help someone in an occupation that I will be enjoying my entire life. Will you please give me some information on working for IP Relay? What kind of schooling do you need?
    Where is the job is located? Is this the job Iam looking for? Will you please help me make may dream come true!

  17. Tonight I had an amazing experience! I think I have found my dream occupation. I have been answering the telephone at business for about 4 years. Tonight I came across an IP relay call,ever sense,all I have been thinking about is that 20 min. I have always been curious on how I could help someone in an occupation that I will be enjoying my entire life. Will you please give me some information on working for IP Relay? What kind of schooling do you need?
    Where is the job is located? Is this the job Iam looking for? Will you please help me make may dream come true!