An Open Letter To All Businesses & Employees: Communication With Deaf People Via Text Relay


I’m Gemma and I have profound hearing loss. I was born with it.

After being poorly treated during a Text Relay call to a local business today, I felt enough was enough. It was time to write an open letter to all businesses.

Like many people, I often make phone calls. But, I can’t just pick up the phone, dial a number and then speak to the person I’m calling. Because of my hearing loss, I rely on lip reading so it’s physically impossible for me to hear and understand people over the phone. Instead, I have to use Text Relay.

The Text Relay service is a national telephone relay service for deaf people in the UK. It provides us with a way to use the phone to communicate with friends and family, businesses and service providers. It allows us to maintain some level of independence.

Most of the time when I use Text Relay to make a phone call, the recipient of the call is usually accommodating and easy to deal with. But it isn’t always like that.

There have been many times people have hung up on me before I got a chance to say what I needed to say. Sometimes I’ve had to deal with impatience and rudeness from an employee.

Just to list some examples…

I once phoned a local hair salon to enquire about an appointment, but they immediately hung up. I called them again and before I could type a single word, the operator apologised and informed me the call had ended and the woman was being abusive.

I’ve had to deal with staff who felt they have to ask for permission from their boss before taking my call. The Equality Act 2010 states you cannot refuse to take a phone call made via the Text Relay service (without making reasonable adjustments, or offering an alternative method of communication e.g. email), so why do you need to ask for permission to take my call?

During a recent phone call to a local Chinese restaurant, the guy suggested I use the Just Eat service next time I ordered. They implied I was being an inconvenience for phoning them through Text Relay. It’s not my preferred method of ordering since their entire menu isn’t listed. I called them yesterday to order my usual Chinese, and they were very abrupt and impatient with me. I feel so put off by their phone manner that they’re no longer getting my business.

Several years ago when I called a taxi service to book a taxi, the driver complained Text Relay calls took too long. He told me to get someone else to call him. Why should I? I’m independent. I’m not giving up any part of my independence for anyone’s convenience.

They all have something in common. They violated a part of the Equality Act 2010 (or the DDA as some of these incidents took place before 2010). Discriminatory treatment is unacceptable.

It’s unfair to expect the Text Relay operators to relay rudeness and abuse. They are human beings who are just trying to do their jobs. I’ve had operators apologise to me after a call where someone had been unpleasant. They shouldn’t have to apologise. They shouldn’t be placed in a position where they’re party to abuse or discriminatory behaviour, and then apologise for what wasn’t their fault.

Just like you, a deaf person is a human being with feelings. A deaf person has the same needs and rights as you do. We can’t help being deaf. Please remember that next time someone calls you via Text Relay.

Please show some respect and patience when you’re in a Text Relay call. These calls take a bit longer than normal, but that’s true for both parties. It isn’t just you giving up a few extra minutes. When a deaf person takes the time to phone you, it’s good manners to reciprocate.

6 useful tips to help you in a Text Relay call

  1. Operators do not like relaying unpleasant or abusive responses. Please keep it clean and respectful.
  2. Many deaf people aren’t able to communicate effectively using the English language. They aren’t stupid, but their grasp of proper English is often broken. Therefore they need extra time to convey what they need because, British Sign Language (BSL) is structured differently. BSL is a visual language, so it’s quite difficult for many deaf people to translate it into a written form that is also easily understood by the operator.
  3. When you receive a Text Relay call, you will hear an automated message saying you have a Text Relay call, and there will be a short delay while the operator joins the call. Please don’t hang up! It’s not a prank call or someone cold-calling you. Just wait for the operator to join the call, and they will give you further information.
  4. Try to remember to say, “Go ahead” after you’ve finished speaking. It tells the caller that it’s their turn to speak. When the operator tells you to go ahead, it means it’s your turn to speak.
  5. When you’re in a Text Relay call, remember you’re not having the conversation with the operator. You’re having a conversation with a deaf person. The operator is there to relay what you say into a written or visual format for the deaf caller, and vice versa.
  6. If you don’t have time to take the call, you can tell the operator to relay to the caller that you’re not able to take the call, and remember to give an alternative time to call back, or an alternative method of communication, e.g. email. Doing this shows respect, and it won’t offend the caller. It means the caller isn’t going away wondering if/why you have a problem with them.

I hope these tips will help you deal with Text Relay calls better.

Thank you for reading.

Extra resources

  1. The Equality Act 2010 in layman’s terms — PDF download
  2. How to use a phone to call a deaf person via Text Relay

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