Exact Language from HR 3101
SEC. 103. RELAY SERVICES. (a) DEFINITION.—Paragraph (3) of section 225(a) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 225(a)(3)) is amended to read as follows: ‘‘(3) TELECOMMUNICATIONS RELAY SERVICES.—The term ‘telecommunications relay services’ means telephone transmission that provides the ability for an individual who is deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who has a speech disability to engage in communication by wire or radio with one or more individuals, in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of a hearing individual who does not have a speech disability to communicate using voice communication services by wire or radio.’’.What Does That Mean?
The above language is vague, which may be part of the reason for the opposition by some people. As Kelby Brick explained on Twitter, it means that deaf people who use sign language would be able to use relay services to communicate with non-signing deaf people. Kelby provided further information to clarify why this provision was added to HR 3101. He pointed to a PDF of Consumer Groups’ Expectations of Responsibilities and Goals for the Disability Rights Office (DRO) Federal Communications Commission, which has the following language:
"Grant the pending petition to clarify that TRS includes communications between and among people with disabilities and not only communications between an individual with a disability and one without a disability"
The Petition to the FCC
What petition is this language referring to? Again Kelby pointed to the original source, a petition to the FCC from January 28, 2009, Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, CG Docket No. 03-123. This is a 25-page document that asks that the definition of a relay service be expanded to include calls made with a combination of multiple communication assistants and technologies (e.g. captioned telephone, video relay, etc), because section 225 of the Communications Act requires "relay services that are the functional equivalent of traditional voice services provided to hearing users." Page 9 states "Although VRS now appears to be the preferred mode of communication for many former TTY users who sign, millions of Americans with hearing loss must still rely on text-based communication."
More Interaction Between ASL Deaf and Oral Deaf
In other words, while many deaf people use sign language video relay services, what about those deaf and hard of hearing people who do not use sign language or who do not know sign language? The days when everyone used TTYs are gone! What if a non-signing deaf person wants to contact a signing deaf person without using instant messaging or email? This provision of HR 3101 could encourage friendships between oral and signing deaf people! Or what if someone from Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf wants to collaborate with someone at the National Association of the Deaf?