State provided services help hard of hearing use phones

  • May 31, 2011
  • |
  • publicrelationsdept

In honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month, Virginia Relay was featured in Sunday’s edition of the Suffolk News-Herald. Here’s the article:

State provided services help hard of hearing use phones

By Emily Collins

Picking up the phone and calling a family member seems like an easy task, but it’s quite the opposite for someone who can’t hear the person on the other end of the line.

During Better Hearing and Speech Month in May, the Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has been spreading the word about services that make the telephone more accessible.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to learn about the communication needs of the deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and speech disabled,” said Clayton Bowen, the relay and technology programs manager for VDDHH.

There are three state-run services that Virginia provides for the deaf and hard of hearing. “Relay services serves as their access to the telephone network. Otherwise, they would not be able to use the network to call their families or call businesses,” Bowen said.

In 1991, the Virginia Relay became the first state-run service to improve telephone communication for people with hearing and speech problems.

The service provides users with the ability to type and read their phone conversations using a TTY telephone with a keyboard.

By dialing 711, an operator will read the user’s words to a hearing recipient and then type what the person says back.

Bowen said traditional relay has expanded rapidly since its inception, and there are now several relay call centers in the state.

In addition to the traditional services, there are two others available.

CAPTEL, which stands for captioned telephone, became available in 2004 but has gained popularity in recent years.

CAPTEL phones, which have screens, use voice recognition technology to show a transcript of the conversation to the user.

“That is particularly popular with seniors and adults who have lost their hearing, but they can still speak very clearly,” Bowen said. “For a senior, it’s much like the same experience they had with using the phone before they lost their hearing.”

Another service, Video Relay also makes for a more natural conversation, but in this service, the user has a web camera or videophone and signs to an interpreter who relays the message to the other person.

Bowen said deaf people usually like this service because it does not require them to speak.

He added its popularity has increased over the years because the technology has become more widely available.

“It has become more and more popular as Internet is more accessible to the public now,” he said. “The price of video phones and webcams has become more reasonable.”

Video Relay requires an Internet connection and special software that is free of charge when you sign up for the service.

Additionally, traditional relay and CAPTEL required special telephones, but many users can receive the TTY and CAPTEL phones for free or at a discounted rate through the Technology Assistance Program through VDDHH.

Bowen said anyone interested in the services for themselves or for someone else should contact the VDDHH.

For more information, visit or call 800-552-7917.

(Courtesy of the Suffolk News-Herald)

Common FAQ about Mobile Video Relay Services

  • May 20, 2011
  • |
  • publicrelationsdept

Technology has transformed cell phones from simple devices that make calls to complex gadgets that can do just about anything. One of the greatest innovations to the cell phone for a deaf or hard-of-hearing person has been the introduction of a front-facing camera, which allows the user to view the display screen and the camera at the same time. This now common feature led to the creation of mobile video relay services, first introduced in June 2010 when ZVRS announced VRS support on the new iPhone.

How does Video Relay Service (VRS) work?
VRS allows deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to have telephone conversations with hearing people. Mobile VRS allows users with a videophone and real-time video connection to connect with an interpreter who “relays” the conversation between the two parties. The interpreter voices what the deaf person is signing to the hearing caller and translates the spoken words into American Sign Language (ASL) for the deaf/hard-of-hearing caller to see on screen.

What are the pros and cons of mobile VRS?

  • Some providers have good, clear video, even in 3G
  • Most apps have flash and vibrating alerts for incoming calls
  • Some providers have easy dialing on Google
  • Mobility = Freedom (to do errands and such, not be stuck near home/office video phone)
  • Save time communicating in ASL compared to lengthy or complicated texting or email


  • Some providers’ address books do not sync properly
  • Some providers drain battery faster than others
  • Some providers use too many phone #’s  for each device
  • Some providers are not interoperable (point to point calls) with different providers
  • Some providers have limited data plans

What should I consider when getting a new cell phone?
There are a few things to take into consideration when thinking about getting a new cell phone to use for mobile VRS. The phone should include:

  • A front-facing camera
  • A fast processor
  • High-speed internet such as 4G and Wifi, but 3G is ok

Once you have found your phone or phone choices, double check to see if a mobile VRS service supports your choices.

Where can I see a demonstration for mobile VRS?
You can view two different videos on mobile VRS here:

What mobile VRS providers are available?
There are several providers that have mobile VRS available, including:

  • Sprint Relay
  • Sorenson
  • ZVRS
  • Convo Relay
  • Purple Communications
  • AT&T
  • Mainstream VRS

What applications are available to use?
There are many applications that can be downloaded onto your cell phone. A few of these include:

VRS service providers are realizing that mobile VRS will be a big part of our future. It is our hope that because technology is constantly evolving, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community will be able to greatly benefit from these innovations.