When talking to people who are deaf or deaf-blind, I hear it again and again. We all have horror stories to tell about trying to call a business only to have them hang up on us. It is such a frustrating feeling, the kind that makes you feel so small.
I don't think people mean to be so rude. My guess is that they just don't understand. They should. There's been so much awareness about ADA and the needs of people who are deaf. Still, the message hasn't gotten through. Here are some examples:
I tried calling Guys Pizza in Kent. The man who answered the phone hung up before I could speak. I called back. This time he said, "We sell pizza here. Are you sure you have the right number?"
I told him I was calling to order pizza. After that, everything went fine. That's not always the case.
A year ago I was craving Chinese food. I can't drive, so delivery is my only option. I could find just one Chinese restaurant in Kent that delivers. So, I used the relay service to call China City.
It was Saturday evening. A woman answered the phone.
First time: "We're busy. Call tomorrow."
Second time: "I just talked to you. Call later."
Third time: She just hung up.
I called again about two hours later. She said, "We're busy. Call tomorrow."
Now I was getting mad. I still wanted Chinese food. More than that, I wanted to set her straight about relay calls and customers who are deaf. But this ignorant woman kept hanging up before I could speak.
I tried again for lunch on Sunday. The same woman answered.
First time: "We're busy. Call later."
Second time: "I told you to call later."
Third time: She just hung up.
I am nothing if not stubborn. When I want something, and I'm not able to get it due to discrimination, I do not give up. I was prepared to call China City every day until they took my call.
I tried again that night. This time I got a man. He was obviously nervous. He kept stuttering and saying "ummmm...." or “uhhhh..." He also laughed at inappropriate times.
It took awhile, but I was finally able to place my order. I told him about the woman who kept hanging up on me. He just laughed and said, “We don't get you guys much."
"You guys??" I assume he was referring to people who are deaf. I took offense at his remark. I have never ordered from China City again.
I had another experience just last week. I called the Natatorium in Cuyahoga Falls. I had a few questions about open swim hours and cost. I called three times on Tuesday. The woman who answered kept hanging up on me. I called three times on Wednesday. More hang ups. I called again on Thursday. She hung up the first time. She finally took the call on my second try. She told me what I needed to know, but she was quite rude and impatient.
A phone call from a relay service or video phone relay service is not a scam, prank or telemarketer. It is a legitimate call from a person who is hard-of-hearing, deaf or deaf-blind. The relay service simply acts as a link to allow for accessible communication. Most people who are deaf receive the relayed messages as text on a computer or TTY. They then type their response for the relay operator to say aloud.
These days many deaf people prefer to use video phone, which allows them to sign to the operator and vice versa. American Sign
Language is not a written language. Video phone allows people who are deaf to communicate in their native language.
As for me, I use a device called the Deaf-Blind Communicator. Among other features, it includes a braille TTY. I read in braille what the operator types. It's amazing what technology can now offer. It's meaningless if the person on the other end does not cooperate.
When you receive a relay call, you will hear something like, "Ohio Relay Service Operator 2456f with a relay call." The operator will then explain what this means and how to use the relay service. If you are unsure of what to do, ask the operator. They are very helpful people. It's part of their job.
When the call begins, the relay service will say exactly what the person types or signs. They will be speaking in first person. You should do the same. Saying things like "tell her I said..." or "he needs to..." is considered rude. Talk directly to the caller.
There are a few rules that might seem weird or awkward. When you are finished speaking, you need to say "GA." This means "go ahead." In other words, you are telling the person it's their turn to talk. Turn taking on a TTY is essential. The reason is that a TTY can't receive in-coming messages and send out-going messages at the same time. The two will get mixed up and become garbled. People still interrupt the relay operator, which is viewed as impolite.
Another term to know is "SK." This is used at the end of the call and means "stop keying." Once both parties have said SK, you can hang up the phone. Some people say "GA to SK." They are indicating they're ready to end the call, but you can say more if you want.
Here's another hint. You may not realize this, but the relay operator will describe everything she/he hears. This includes: phones ring, typing sounds, people talk in the background, coughing and nervous sounds the person makes. If you say "ummmm...," the relay service will type it.
So many times I call a business and the employee tells me to hold on. Then he'll yell, "It's another one of those deaf calls. Someone else take it!"
Or the employee might mutter under her breath, "I hate these calls." Be warned - the operator will relay these comments. They also give clues about the person's attitude. Examples include: sounds nervous, sounds helpful, sounds professional, talking too fast, impatient and rude.
Now I beg you... If you get a call from a relay service, don't hang up the phone! It's a customer who just happens to be deaf. His or her money is worth just as much as anyone else's. Why throw that away? Learn to use the relay service and be respectful to everyone. After all, that's what the ADA is about.