Do we need TTYs anymore?

March 10, 2007

Are TTYs relevant anymore? Have we reached a point where we just don’t need TTYs anymore? I think we’re almost there.

TTYIn the late 1970’s and during the 1980’s, we “deafies” just had to have TTYs. It was how we communicated with each other and with our families and close hearing friends who had bought their own TTYs as well. With the advent of TTY relay services in the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s, TTYs took on greater importance as we began to communicate with the hearing world more and more – from the mundane (ordering pizzas) to the important (doing business). (As a sidenote: fax machines never quite caught on in the USA among deaf people, although I understand it saw widespread adoption in some countries.) Laws required government agencies to get TTYs for some of its offices, like central calling points, 9-1-1 call centers, and airports. Laws also required many businesses to provide TTYs as well.

Emailing began to be popular in the early 1990’s. We quickly caught on, in large part thanks to our experience with the VAX at Gallaudet and RIT / NTID. And then the World Wide Web (the modern Internet) burst onto the scene. Suddenly, everyone had their own email addresses (mostly AOL, with a good number of Yahoo, Compuserve (now Netscape), and Hotmail addresses as well). Instant messaging showed up soon after that. We were able to better communicate with each other and with our more computer-saavy hearing friends / family members. But that depended on when we / they were sitting in front of computers. For emergencies or more urgent matters, we still had to call via the TTY. And at that time, it was often still difficult to contact businesses via email or the Internet.

Wyndtell pagerAlphanumerical pagers with their own tiny keyboards began to show up around the mid-to-end 1990’s. And then Wyndtell pagers arrived. That was when pagers began to be ubiquitous (everywhere) throughout the deaf community. When T-mobile released the Sidekick (with its built-in cellphone), deafies were quick to make the switch, and even hearing people got them — heck, even Paris Hilton had one! Pretty soon, we picked up on the art of text messaging from pagers to cellphones without keyboards – and we were able to communicate even with “hearies” who had “cheap” cellphones.

SidekickOnce the new century began, businesses also began being better about communicating through the Internet. We could shop for clothes and food, contact our doctors, make automobile repair appointments, do banking, order take-out or delivery — all from our computer or even from our pagers. (In fact, the term “pager” became outdated — it’s more appropriate to call our Sidekicks and Treos and Blackberries “smartphones” or “mobile devices.”) We could get and send emails and instant messages anywhere, anytime via our smartphones. Heck, when we were expecting our first and then second child, I had my smartphone tucked in my pillow so that any news from our surrogate / gestational carrier would wake me up! Around the same time, TTY relay services began providing services via the Internet or even via instant messaging to / from smartphones. No need to fire up my TTY whenever I wanted to call via relay service — I only needed to click on my smartphone or sit at my computer.

Once it became common for deaf people (and their hearing friends / families) to own smartphones, TTY usage began a marked decline. Many people only used them to, well, order pizza and make appointments with less-tech-saavy local businesses, and of course to make emergency calls as needed. Even then, we used the computer or our smartphones to call them via relay. Or to make an urgent call to our deaf friends who didn’t have smartphones, although that number of friends were steadily declining (and besides, we could use Nextalk to do TTY calls from our computer). And family members and hearing friends? Emails, text messaging, and instant messaging would do. Even stores and businesses, seeing declining pay phone usage because of cellphones being everywhere, began taking out pay phones — and so TTYs began disappearing across the United States.

Dlink videophoneThe final nail in the coffin for TTYs: videophones from D-link or Sorenson. Video relay services became numerous, and we were able to call (and see!) each other. Of course, one had to have a good high-speed Internet service at home — but again, this was becoming more and more common (and affordable as well). No longer did we need to use TTYs or TTY relay services — we only needed to stand (or sit) in front of our televisions and call someone. Or use email, or instant messaging, or text messaging. Even so, I had kept a phone line for emergency 9-1-1 purposes — although my TTY was unplugged and buried somewhere in my home office. Now that Sorenson VRS is allowing 9-1-1 calls (and surely other VRS providers will follow suit soon), do I even need a phone line anymore? (Yes, I do — my alarm system is hooked up to it, plus I still get or send faxes once in a while.)

If someone needed to reach me during an emergency, s/he needed only to send me an email to my smartphone during the day, or call me via the videophone (which is — or is supposed to be — connected to a flashing light system) during the night.
But the more important question is, do I need a TTY anymore? And I say, no. Do WE still need TTYs? I’m not so sure I can say that yet. One of my deaf friends doesn’t have a smartphone, and even so, she has a computer (but dials into the Internet rather than uses high-speed Internet). But I had to call her early one morning to tell her not to come over, and I had to call her TTY (while using Nextalk on my end). My partner’s hearing mother has a computer and dial-up (slow) Internet access and knows how to use instant messaging, but she still uses the TTY when having long conversations with my partner (who uses Nextalk from our end). So, some people still need TTYs, but that number is shrinking dramatically each year.

I’m curious, though … Nearly all of my friends are professional — they have jobs, or their partners / spouses do, or they are students in college. Nearly all of us live in large towns and cities. I have some thoughts:

  • Are there still sizeable groups of deaf people in more rural areas who depend a great deal on TTYs? My deaf friends living in rural areas all have smartphones, but I could be overlooking groups of people who I’d have no reason to be in touch with.
  • Should governments continue to purchase TTYs and train staff on using them? Or start to focus on working with more recent technologies? Nearly all agreements between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and businesses and governments involving deafness and effective communication still require access via TTY or TTY relay services. A recent guidance released by the DOJ still requires 9-1-1 call centers to provide TTY access, but it also encourages governments to stay up to date with advances in technology.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment, willya?


18 Responses to “Do we need TTYs anymore?”

  1. Nick Says:

    I still have a tty. I think it is a good idea to keep the TTY only for 911 purpose for now. I use my VP for all kinds of calls. but 911 is still well established on TTYs.

    Until our government makes 911 easily accessible on all pagers and all VPs, our best bet is keeping our TTYs for now.

    That’s my two cents. :)

  2. mishkazena Says:

    Yes, there is a significant group still using TTY. Deaf-Blind people are feeling more isolated now due to popularity of other communication devices currently inaccessible to them.

  3. M Says:

    Many still need tty since many still do not own SK or other technology. I agree tty still best used for 911 calls. I’m one who do not own or use SK due to cost. I rather have phone than SK, had to pick one or another.

  4. Dianrez Says:

    It would be useful to compare the costs, pros and cons of different devices. For example, a SK costs $30 per month, which is comparable to the cost of a private line phone.

    There are internet fax services that cost $10 per month. Nextalk now offers a fax (receive, not send) service for free.

    It is confusing because there are so many of them and most of which we hear about only by chance. Let’s have a comprehensive information source.

  5. *Boston Says:

    SorensonVRS now allows 911 calls. So that really makes the reason for keeping TTY not essential.

  6. Lantana Says:

    I still keep a tty at both of our homes. My husband is hearing and we do not have Sidekicks or anything else. Not yet. Not until I can find something that I can use with long fingernails and arthritis!

    I stated in another blog that I have always had very good luck with contacting 911 with my tty even tho we live in a small community. It is difficult for the police and for medical personnel to keep up with OUR technology, so let’s keep the tty’s at least until EVERYONE has caught on.

  7. I’ve wrote few times about TTY and emergency in my blogsite in late 2004. (see links below)

    Bottom line, we need to keep TTY just to be safe. Internet depends on electricity. Yet we cannot make emergency call thru relay service on your cell phone. So, we are still stuck with TTY and phone line….

  8. debby Says:

    Yes we can use relay services to call emergency on sidekick pagers. Sprint relay service, ip-relay, etc are helpful when you are on the road or visit your hearing family or friends.

  9. debby Says:

    Also, keep TTY for different reasons.

  10. Lantana Says:

    I do not think it is well known that SK and various pagers’ providers do not work in small, out of the way communities. We do not all live in New York, Denver, Atlanta, etc. etc.

    I am wondering how the deaf that have only minimum language skills make out text messaging with their “pagers”??

    With a tdd, the police’s version of GPS will guide any emergency vehicle right to your door. I know because I have had to use it. Priceless!


  11. Peter Brown Says:

    This sounds oppressive to those of us that don’t use email or sidekicks. Not to mention this is a direct insult to those deaf people who don’t know sign. It is a typical comment from a typical “deafie”.

  12. Lisa Says:

    We are keeping our ttys for 911 purpose. Calling from our phone line with or without tty will guide police to our house real quick. One day last year when our friend was calling 911 for an ambulance and the police got there before she gave them her home address.

  13. M Says:

    Even tho SK cost 30 dollars per month, say, we have two deaf adults in household, that comes to 60 per month, plus phone for my hearing kids. I guess, with each family or household, the need versus cost varies. TTY is still essential for now. Maybe in future, that need will change due to better costs or technology. Right now it seems there’s always something else that adds up to the cost like high speed internet line. I agree, though, that with the internet, we don’t use tty as
    much as we used to.

    but think about it…what about other services we expect from police, ambulance, hospitals, etc. They would still need tty if we expect to be able to contact them directly instead of going through third party. Third party communication is always not the best.

  14. M. Johnson Says:

    I don’t have a tty since three years! Why? Me ASL user not writing! About calling 911? I use my fax included dialing machine! I use fax for business purposes…

  15. Ron Keebler Says:

    There are deaf in rural areas that still need TTY due to lack of technology skills, culture limitations and mobile access. I attended a Deaf Mennonite church (all deaf) in Lancaster PA where members preferred varied levels of technology. Most used TTY back then, some had old converted teletype machines that looked like mailboxes.
    Also during the 9/11 crisis in NYC much cell phone connectivity was lost while some landlines worked. I personally was able reach my family using my Blackberry.

  16. leah Says:

    wow! this is something i have talked about, and feared, a lot at work, but hdnt looked up online untill recently, and i think this really sucks (you see… i am a tty relay operator, and i LIKE my job,…no…i LOVE my job). SOOO it saddens me to realize this, although, i’m excited for my deafie friends who are able to communicate…and as i read this i think… you know..i have many deaf friends but i dont think i have ever TAKEN a relay call before… i mean they never call me that way, we’re all on tmobile and text all day. Something that interests me is this: there are a lot of people who are deaf that work at my company (office staff, supervisory staff, janitorial staff, etc) and also some of the relay operators are blind (they use a brailex attatchment neither of the parties on the phone ever know a difference) we have “little people” (formerly known as midgets), multiple wheelchair bound people, all agents/operators, thats one of the things i LOVE so much about my job… not ONLY am i helping people, but work place is SOOO integrated, at other jobs there might be ONE deaf person…or ONE blind person…or ONE person who was paralyzed or partially so, and at relay it is so amazing to work with such a diverse group of people and everyone mesh together so well!! i will hate the day when there isnt a need for tty relay anymore.

    something else to consider, that wasnt covered in this… when you say “deafies” i think of people born deaf or deaf from an early age… people that use asl, but a TON of tty relay users dont know sign language,.. i dont know any official stats on it, but i’d be willing to bet more than half of the tty users have “later in life hearing loss” (old people who go deaf in their 60’s or 70’s or even 80’s, and THEY dont know how to sign and usually have arthritus so bad they wouldnt be able to sign, they use VCO phones because they cant even really type, and the older crowd usually has wants the transmission speed around 30wpm, BUT they cant use video relay because they cant sign, and they re too old to understand texting on regular cell phones much less how to use a mini qwerty on a smart phone. eventually that will all change but for now, thankfully, there is still a market for ttys!

  17. nathan Says:

    I still use TDD, some state office like S.S. , EDD, and other goverment level still have them and it easier than getting a busy line when you use relay.. but again very rare

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