American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

FCC Making Improvements to Speech-to-Speech Relay Service

(August 26, 2013)

During the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) July meeting some concerns were raised regarding the overall usage of Speech-to-Speech (STS) relay service by persons with speech disabilities as well as the standards to improve a user's experience.

As a result, the FCC has issued final regulations that amend telecommunications relay services (TRS) mandatory minimum standards applicable to STS relay service. This is to ensure that persons with speech disabilities have access to relay services that address their unique needs to provide relay services in a manner that is functionally equivalent to conventional telephone voice services. The final regulations become effective October 15, 2013.

To address usage concerns, the FCC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on how to enhance the knowledge and use of STS relay service by persons with speech disabilities in order to ensure those individuals have access to relay services that address their unique needs. The notice appeared in the August 15, 2013, Federal Register [PDF], and the comments on the NPRM are due September 16, 2013. ASHA has established a team to review the proposed rules and submit comments.

ASHA members may want to share this information with the consumers of their services.

Background

STS relay service is a form of TRS that utilizes specially trained Communication Assistants (CAs) who understand the speech patterns of persons with speech disabilities. CAs are able to repeat the words spoken by such individuals to the other parties in order to a relay a call. In addition, the Commission has mandated minimum standards and concludes that these new requirements are necessary to improve the effectiveness and quality of STS so that individuals with speech disabilities may receive functionally equivalent telephone service, as mandated by Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Although the FCC approved STS as a compensable relay service in 2000, demand for this service has remained relatively modest, and its growth has been slow compared with other forms of telecommunications relay services—notwithstanding the sizeable population of people in the United States who have speech disabilities. Therefore, the FCC seeks to learn more about the reasons why STS has not been more widely utilized in these proposed regulations.

Resources

For more information, view the Federal Register notice [PDF] or contact Catherine D. Clarke, ASHA's director of education and regulatory advocacy, at cclarke@asha.orgor 800-498-2071, ext. 5611.


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