Resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in TTS
Tools, services, points of contact, and tips for navigating the resources available to individuals and teams.
Services provided by GSA
Once GSA has established that a person is Deaf and/or is Hard of Hearing (HoH), they should not have to provide additional medical documentation for assistive technologies or services related to that disability—only any other reasonable accommodations that they might need. If you receive a request for medical documentation, consult GSA’s Office of Civil Rights to determine whether that request is appropriate.
Federal Relay Services (FedRelay)
In order to provide accessible telecommunications services for Deaf/HoH and speech-disabled employees, GSA has a contract with FedRelay (with a very high contract ceiling) for these shared services. These services are not free, they are billed to a task order (a request for services from within an established contract) that GSA pays for and should only be used when needed to accommodate the individual. There is no cost to program offices (like 18F, OPP, PIF, etc.) for using these services, and FedRelay services do not require medical documentation.
The general public who are Deaf/HoH or those having speech disabilities can also use this service to conduct business with federal agencies.
FedRelay offers six services in English and Spanish, which are described in detail on GSA’s FedRelay page:
- Text telephone (TTY)/ASCII
- Speech to speech
- Captioned telephone
- IP Relay (a web-based version of TTY/ASCII service)
- Relay conference captioning
- Video relay
Accessing remote services
To access remote interpreting or captioning services:
- Find the service you want to use on the FedRelay site
- Follow the instructions specific to that service
- When prompted for a Federal Agency Bureau (AB) Code, they are listed in numerical order. GSA is number 4700
- Provide the interpreter or service with TTS’s Glossary of terms and list of tools we reference frequently
Video relay services (VRS)
Dependencies for video relay
In order to use video relay services in combination with video meeting tools like Google Meet, the Deaf/HoH individual will need to install GSA-approved software called Z5 app that connects them by video to a sign language interpreter. To get this software:
- The individual’s Supervisor should submit a software request on behalf of the individual. Individuals can also submit their own request, but it will then immediately get routed to their supervisor for approval.
- Pending the individual’s specific communication needs, in the software request Comments field, note that GSA IT should contact the individual for setup instructions by email, and not by phone.
- Install the VRS software app. GSA IT will contact the individual for setup and installation.
- Download Z5 app for mobile and/or desktop, which is GSA-approved. If Z5 cannot be downloaded or installed, contact GSA IT to make it available in Self Service.
- Create an account at Z5’s Registration page and follow their instructions.
- After creating an account, you may need to wait for few days for the account to be activated. Also, a Z5 enterprise account manager may reach out to you to provide support, answer questions and verify contact info.
Connect to a meeting with video relay
For a Google Hangouts/Meet meeting:
- Dial (877) 709-5797 from your videophone (the Z5 app). Press option 1 for English or option 2 for Spanish
- Connect to a video interpreter and provide the name of your Federal agency (In this case, “GSA”) or Agency Bureau (AB) code (GSA’s AB code is 4700)
- Provide the phone number you want to call to the interpreter and the PIN, which both are listed under “Join by phone” on your Google Calendar invite
- Begin your conversation
For a Zoom meeting:
- Dial (877) 709-5797 from your videophone (the Z5 app). Press option 1 for English or option 2 for Spanish
- Connect to a video interpreter and provide the name of your Federal agency (in this case, “GSA”) or Agency Bureau code (in this case, “4700”)
- Provide the phone number you want to call to the interpreter, which is listed under “Dial [by your location]” on your Google Calendar invite. Make sure that every Calendar invite also includes the dial-in number — a Zoom URL itself will not allow an interpreter to join in the meeting
- Begin your conversation
Video relay tips
- Add (877) 709-5797 to your Z5 contact list for a quick dial
- Interpreters can facilitate information in both directions. Deaf/HoH individuals using their own voice in conversation (instead of the interpreter voicing for them) should inform the interpreter at the beginning that they’ll be using Voice Carry Over (VCO). Alternatively, they should ask the interpreter to convert the individual’s conversation from sign language to voice.
- If you are using Voice Carry Over (VCO) and the interpreter is not expected to use their voice, mute the interpreter’s phone line from the Google Meet or Zoom meeting to reduce background noises and microphone echos.
- Inform an interpreter of how long the meeting will be (e.g. 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.) before it begins. This helps them determine whether or not to have a partner to switch over during the meeting, preventing cognitive fatigue for an interpreter in a long meeting
- Inform the meeting host ahead of time that they may see an unrecognizable number dialed in—this is FedRelay.
Relay conference captioning (RCC)
Relay conference captioning is real-time captioning for meetings over the phone or internet, including web conferencing, by creating text in a computer window. This is the only service that needs to be scheduled in advance: please book at least 12 hours ahead for English, and 48 hours ahead for Spanish.
Schedule a meeting with Relay Conference Captioning
- Follow the instructions on the FedRelay RCC page
- When the booking is confirmed, you will receive a link for accessing the transcript at the time of the event
- Add the link for accessing the live transcript to the meeting invitation, so that individuals using it can find it easily when they join the meeting
Relay Conference captioning tips
- For the Federal Agency Name field, GSA is 4700
- Join the meeting early if you can so that you can make sure the captioner is set up properly.
- Include a good description of the event so they know what words or acryonms to expect. For example, if you’re giving a technical talk the captioner might not be familiar with some of the words you expect to use, so including them will help the captions be more accurate.
- Consider also including the phonetic pronunciation for words or you expect to use a lot. (Use your judgement, you don’t want to overwhelm them either!)
- You are also able to chat through the captioning interface. You can use this to correct or supplement captions if necessary.
If an individual has used other software that isn’t included in the FedRelay package, follow the instructions on the Software page to check whether it is already approved by GSA, and how to request it.
Accessing in-person services
There are times when a Deaf/HoH individual may desire or find it more convenient to have a live interpreter than to manipulate the FedRelay tools, such as in-person events like workshops or group meetings.
Choose a service provider that the individual has previously had a good experience with if you can. GSA has not allocated centralized funds to support costs associated with accommodating employees outside of FedRelay, which leaves some flexibility and choice up to the individual. Find organizations or interpreters the individual has worked with before that have knowledge of their specialized technical vocabulary.
Each program office is responsible for the cost of these services.
Planning for on-site interpreting services
Booking and purchasing:
- Identify the service provider and their rates
- The individual or their supervisor should email their Director for approval of the expense. For 18F, this is likely your Chapter Director. For OPP, this is likely your Portfolio Lead. Include:
- the date of services
- an estimated ceiling for number of hours needed
- an estimated ceiling for the cost of services
- Export the approved email as a PDF
- Submit a micropurchase request
Best practices for working with an on-site interpreter(s):
- It is standard practice to have two interpreters available to prevent them from having cognitive fatigue that would result in poor performance. At best, they would switch every 20-30 minutes and assist each other if they miss something.
- Share slides, agendas, glossaries, or other materials with interpreters ahead of time.
- Schedule interpreters to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the event to allow the individuals and interpreters to meet beforehand, review any specialized vocabulary, and share individual preferences for communication and signing styles.
- If possible, work with a consistent pool of interpreters so they can be familiar with TTS/GSA work culture and technical signs. This will help avoid emotional labor of having to constantly educate new, different interpreters each time.
- Keep points of contact for scheduling, coordinating, and payment to a minimum to avoid creating emotional labor for the interpreters.
- People often use “interpreter” and “translator” interchangeably, and while they’re similar, they differ. In general, an interpreter interprets spoken information in real-time, while a translator converts information from written/recorded materials. So when inquiring for an interpreter, don’t make the mistake of calling them a translator.
- Remember that interpreting goes both directions. Interpreters can convert spoken language into sign language and sign language into spoken language based on the group’s needs.
Planning for accessible events
GSA maintains a very useful InSite page on planning for accessible events to help employees prepare their everyday activities to be more inclusive and be in conformance with Section 508 requirements for digital media. It’s worth VPNing in for, and includes guidance on:
- Choosing an accessible location
- Facility considerations
- Event registration preparation
- Accommodations for Blind or Low Vision individuals
- Accommodations for Deaf or Hard of Hearing individuals
- Preparations for the presenter
Who to contact
GSA Human Resources (HR)
GSA HR is helpful from an overall GSA policy standpoint, and can help point you to specific individuals for the most up-to-date resources. Ask them for points of contact for Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators in each region, who can help organize on-site resources for their area.
Office of Civil Rights
GSA prohibits discrimination in the workplace and the Office of Civil Rights upholds the agency’s commitment to becoming a model Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) employer.
Contact the Office of Civil Rights to:
- Learn about what opportunities and resources exist outside of this list.
- Help determine whether a request for medical documentation supporting a temporary or permanent disability is appropriate
- Report discrimination when an individual is applying for employment at GSA or as a current or former GSA employee
- File an administrative complaint requesting that existing electronic and information technology (E&IT), such as a GSA branded website or non-accessible document that does not conform to the Section 508 standards, be reviewed and brought into compliance with the provisions of Section 508.
Equal Employment Opportunity Program
Work with this program within the Office of Civil Rights to get assistive technology solutions through the Department of Defense’s Computer Accommodation Program
Terms to know
- Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART): A service where a captioner converts spoken speech into written text. CART is also better known as real-time or live captioning.
- Closed captioning (CC): A text version of all types of audio elements is shown on the visual display or screen, including spoken conversation and description of background elements, music, and other sounds. Unlike open captions, closed captioning is optional and activated by the viewer. (See difference, subtitles).
- Hearing person: A Deaf culture term identifying a person with a typical hearing ability.
- Federal Relay (FedRelay): Provides telecommunications services for federal agencies and tribal governments to conduct official business with individuals who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing, or have speech disabilities.
- Interpreter: An interpreter converts spoken information into sign language in real-time. Also, an interpreter converts sign language into verbal speech for a hearing person. (See difference, translator)
- Open captioning (OC): Similar to closed captions, but with open captions, the latter is always on (encoded into the visual display or screen) and does not need to be activated by the viewer.
- On-site interpreting: An interpreter is physically present at the location where there is a face-to-face meeting or conversation between hearing and Deaf/HoH people.
- Subtitles: A text version of only the spoken dialogue appears on the visual display or screen. (See difference, closed captioning)
- Video Remote Interpreting (VRI): An on-demand sign language interpreting service through webcam, internet connection and a VRI software app.
- Translator: A translator converts information from written or recorded materials into sign language. (See difference, interpreter)