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Business Sense

Expanding Your Customer Base with Telephone Relay Service

Even in the Internet age, few businesses could survive without the telephone. Whether through landlines or cell phones, the ability to communicate by phone is critical to providing quality service to all potential customers, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. But many businesses that regularly rely on the phone to conduct business transactions are unaware of how to serve a customer who is hearing impaired. A telephone relay service can bridge this divide.

A telephone relay service facilitates conversation between someone who has a communication difficulty and someone who does not. When using a telephone relay service, there is a third party, known as a communication assistant, on the line serving as a go-between to relay information between the two callers.

For example, if a customer with a hearing disability calls your business, they first connect with the relay service. A communication assistant then dials your business and voices what the customer is typing or signing and relays your business's responses to the caller. All conversations are confidential; a communication assistant does not use, hold onto or report on any information shared.

Likewise, if your business wanted to call someone with a hearing disability, the first step would be to call the nearest telephone relay service, accessible by simply dialing 711. The majority of telephone relay services are free to users; many are also available in Spanish.

By using telephone relay services, businesses can increase their accessibility to an oft-neglected customer base. What's more, as the workforce ages and employees become more susceptible to hearing loss, businesses familiar with telephone relay services will be better positioned to retain experienced, qualified employees.

For more information about telephone relay services, read Telephone Relay Services: Enabling Telephone Access for Customers & Employees, one of several publications available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). For information about additional services and products for individuals with hearing impairments, visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Web site.

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