Emily Howlett: S*** We Make Text Relay Operators Say

Posted on May 9, 2012

Recently the Limping Chicken’s very own Donna Williams wrote a piece discussing the various absurdities (also known as ‘s***’) that hearing people say to sign language interpreters. Reading the article, I laughed, nodded sagely and sighed in disbelief. Are people really this clueless? Well, apparently, yes they are.

Incidentally, I have high hopes that the Limping Chicken is doing a sterling job in correcting this ignorance.

However, Donna’s piece also had me wondering; do Deaf people also say s*** to interpreters?

I knew the answer immediately; No, never. Many Deaf people rely greatly upon interpreters and would never abuse this loving and fruitful relationship. *Cough*. So, leaving aside that well-known and indisputable fact, my thoughts travelled a bit further; if we don’t pick on our interpreters (we love you, guys!), who do we pick on?

Oh, yeah.

Text Relay.

For some reason, the hallowed aura of the interpreter does not extend to those faceless yet arguably equally vital denizens of the helpdesk. Or, at least for me it doesn’t. I have probably lost all hope of salvation due to the immense number of things I have added into a conversation purely for comic relief. Pity the Text Relay operator who receives my call…

The most recent occurrence involved a Supremely Important phone call to my employers. I generally tend to avoid phone calls; a habit much facilitated by social media technology and iMessage, but sometimes you just have to do it. So, I grit my teeth, thought up some juicy opening and phoned my employer, through the magic of Text Relay;

“TXD DIALLING….TXD RING….TXD OPERATOR CONNECTED….PLS WAIT….EXPLAINING TYPETALK….CALL CONNECTED GA… Hello this is Brad Pitt, phoning on behalf of a friend, but first, before we get onto her business, can I tell you I have loved you for many years and Angelina is merely a thing to pass the time GA…NOTE FROM OPERATOR: THE PERSON IS LAUGHING…STILL LAUGHING…LAUGHING… HELLO EMILY HOWLETT HOW CAN I HELP YOU GA…”

I do not know what made them presume it was me. Lucky guess.

Another favourite pastime is to have the operator deliver the message in the style of rap. Or opera. Or Sean Connery. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking; as if they would. But, and this is why, in seriousness, I adore these people; THEY DO! My mother has never recovered from being told exactly what happened during my latest hospital trip in the style of 50 Cent.

“Yo, Mammy, it’s your birthday… I been to hospital like it’s your birthday… And you know we don’t like the doctor with the down low, with his shirt low, he got this new ho…. GA… NOTE FROM OPERATOR: I DIDN’T HIT THE HIGH NOTE. SORRY. DO YOU WISH TO HANG UP AND REDIAL? GA”

I have also, on occasion, been a casting assistant for hearing productions. This opens up an untold wealth of opportunities, but sometimes the simplest things are the most beautiful…

“Hello, this is Emily Howlett, how can I help? GA… HELLO, THIS IS THOMAS MORGAN RINGING ABOUT THE CASTING CALL. I’D LIKE TO BOOK AN AUDITION SLOT. GA… Hello, Thomas. That’ll be fine. Can you spell your name for me, please. GA… UM… DOESN’T IT GET WRITTEN DOWN? NO WAIT THAT WAS ME ASKING YOU. OH YOU TELL HER EVERYTHING. OH. UM. IT’S T. H…”

Of course, in these situations where I am the professional being, I can also put people on hold. This generally consists of asking the operator to hum ‘a suitably repetitive and irritating tune’, while repeatedly breaking off to inform the hearing person that their call is ‘very important and dear to us, and will be answered as soon as a member of staff finishes their sandwich/coffee/bath/Hello magazine.’ This is my particular revenge for the infinite number of times I have been left on hold.

I suspect it is usually while the recipient finds someone else to deal with the Deafo. You see, unlike a hearing person who can go about their business, awaiting a voice in the ear to bring them back to the task at hand, us Deafies have to sit and watch the screen. There is no let-up; if you decide to make a dash for the loo, I can guarantee the exact moment your buttocks leave the chair, before you have even reached the door, they will start to type to you. And you’ll return to the depressing flicker of ‘OTHER PARTY HAS HUNG UP. SKSK.’

So, to avoid eating my own feet out of boredom while on hold, I generally indulge in a little conversation with the operator.

YOU ARE ON HOLD… HOLDING…HOLDING… HOLDING… (Holding forever and ever)… HOLDING… (YES, TELL ME ABOUT IT)… HOLDING… HOLDING… (Should I be holding onto the table?)… HOLDING… HOLDING… (HOLD ONTO TABLE AND/OR SANITY)… HOLDING… (Oh, far too late for that)..HOLDING… (LOL)…HOLDING… CALL CONNECTED HELLO HOW MAY I HELP YOU? GA… Oh. Can you go away again for a bit? GA

Well. There’s so much more to say, but I think I should now bow out graciously. She who irritates and runs away, lives to irritate another day.

I can only hope that the operators are laughing too. Or aren’t vengeful types. Or are not skilled in Voodoo. Or don’t read this article.


I think, perhaps, I’ll submit this anonymously. That’ll be ok, right, Editor?





Emily Howlett is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and horsewoman. She describes herself as being “equally fluent in English, BSL and Gibberish, and completely rubbish at French.” Emily can be found all over the place on various escapades, but divides her time between Derby and London. She can often be found behind a large packet of crisps or any halfway decent book, and insists she can still play characters in their early twenties despite having a grey eyebrow hair.

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, training and consultancy Deafworks, and provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella.

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