There are a lot of awesome ways librarians can communicate with patrons with hearing loss. Email and chat reference remove a lot of barriers. There’s always the pencil & paper fallback in person. But what about on the phone?

When I was working as a circulation clerk at a public library, I sometimes had to answer the phone for the entire library and transfer calls as appropriate. One day, a TTY relay call came in for circulation—a patron who wanted to renew their books. I was much more thrown by this than I should have been, simply because it was unexpected and I’d never been prepared/prepared myself for it. The relay operator was helpful, but the minute or two it took me to square the process away in my head was very frustrating to the patron.

After the call, I used the internet to familiarize myself more with the system and came away with a really really basic realization: A relay conversation is exactly the same as any other conversation, except you say “Go ahead.”

That’s it. The relay operator is not a party. They may explain to you how it works before the call (or may not, the person placing the call may choose). You simply have a conversation and, when you’ve finished speaking your sentence or two, you say “Go ahead.”

"Go ahead" is the signal that the other party may speak. Then you wait to hear “Go ahead” again before you speak.

If you do those two things and let the person know when you’re finished and about to hang up, you will successfully navigate the call. It’s not some big, dramatic thing. It’s a conversation with another person, who happens to be typing and having their end read aloud. But you’re talking to them, not the operator. And it should really be no different than any other patron conversation you might have.

Tips from @kwandrews

  1. Top tip. DO NOT hang up on the person. Makes me furious. Wait to hear who it is and what they are calling for.
  2. "go ahead" = your turn to talk. SK or stop keying = ready to hang up. Address person directly, not in 3rd person.
  3. There will be time lag while relay operator is conveying info. Try to be patient.
  4. Keep your message systems simple. Takes forever to navigate menus via relay (operator may have to redial if timed out)

Further reading that may be interesting:

A brief history of the development of TTY

Relay call etiquette tips from the National Business and Disability Council.

Wikipedia entry for TTY, which includes some abbreviations (although unless you’re also typing, these are less important than “Go Ahead.”)

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