Communication Technologies


After its invention in 1964 by Deaf scientist Robert Weitbrecht, the TTY ("TeleTypewriter" or "text telephone") became the primary means of telecommunication for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or mute persons for decades.

TTYs are also known as TDDs, which is short for "Telecommunications Device for the Deaf". Of the two terms, TTY is more commonly used in the Deaf community, while the term TDD is used in government legislation.

Deaf people would type back and forth to each other using TTYs. Prior to TTYs, Deaf persons could not take advantage of the telecommunication cability the same as hearing people could using telephones. They were instead dependent on hearing people to make phone calls for them or would show up at friends' homes without calling ahead, often missing each other. With the TTY, Deaf people could finally call each other similar to hearing people.

When the TTY was first invented, TTY users could only call each other. Starting in 1974, relay services for the Deaf began to enable TTY users to make calls and receive calls from hearing people who had regular phones by means of a relay operator. This service of relaying calls between TTY users and telephones became known as telecommunications relay service or TRS. As computers began to replace TTYs, TRS transitioned to providing service for IP relay calls, as shown in this illustration from Kinetic Communications:

With advances in technology such the Internet and smart phones, other means of telecommunications have slowly replaced the TTY. These newer means of communication include:

  • IP relay (also known as "web-based text relay" where the Deaf person types on a computer to a relay operator)
  • text messaging (a.k.a. texting)
  • video phones (VP)
  • video chat (e.g. Skype, FaceTime)
  • email
  • instant messaging (IM)

In addition to TRS, there is now also video relay service (VRS) for video phone users. VRS allows people who use video phones and hearing people who use regular telephones to call each other using a relay operator. A relay operator is an interpreter who tells the hearing person on the telephone what the video phone user signs and also signs to the video phone user what the hearing person says on the telephone.

Some abbreviations that were used by TTY users are stilled used today for IP relay. Perhaps the most important abbreviations would be as follows:

  • GA: go ahead (indicating it is your turn to talk or type).
  • GA to SK: go ahead to stop keying (meaning the person is ready to hang up unless you have anything else to say).
  • SKSK: stop keying (meaning the person is hanging up).

Using IP relay, when the Deaf person types "GA", the relay operator will say to you, "Go ahead", meaning it is your turn to talk since you need to take turns talking similar to using 2-way radios. When you are done speaking, say, "Go ahead", and the relay operator will type "GA" so that the Deaf person knows it is his or her turn to type.

When the Deaf person is ready to hang up, he or she will type, "GA to SK", meaning "go ahead to stop keying", and the relay operator will tell you, "The person is ready to hang up." You can either continue the conversation if you have more to say, or simply say goodbye to end the phone call. To end the conversation yourself, after you are done speaking, tell the relay operator, "Go ahead to stop keying."

When the Deaf person ends the conversation, they will type SK or SKSK, and the relay operator will tell you, "The person is hanging up."

See also Using Relay.

Face-to-face Communication

Many if not most Deaf people prefer a live interpreter who interprets spoken language from hearing people to sign language (voice-to-sign interpretation) and interprets what Deaf people sign into spoken language (sign-to-voice interpretation).

However, one alternative to using an interpreter is real-time captioning, also known as C-print captioning. This is where a person types out what is being spoken for the Deaf person(s) to read on a screen such as on a laptop computer. Unlike captions on television programs, real-time captions can be used to include Deaf people in events that happen in person such as business meetings and or school classes.

One limitation to using real-time captions is that it is only one-way communication from hearing persons to deaf persons. For the Deaf person to respond, he or she would have to type out or write a reply. Another limitation to real-time captioning is that there is no cultural or linguistic mediation between the spoken English and ASL, which can be a problem if a Deaf person has limited English proficiency. For example, if a hearing person uses an idiom or slang, while an interpreter could explain the concept or meaning of the phrase in ASL, real-time captions would not. So if a hearing person uses a figure of speech such as, "It looks like we're back to the drawing board," the Deaf person might not be familiar with that English expression and thus not understand the idea that the hearing person is trying to communicate.

See also Using an Interpreter.

Movies, Television, and other Video Presentations

All televisions larger than 13 inches sold in the United States are required by the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 to have built-in closed caption decoders. Closed captions (CC) are text on the screen showing spoken language and sound effects that can be turned on and off. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that most television programming in the United States have closed captions.

Unlike closed captions, subtitles on videotapes or dvds do not always include information for people with hearing loss such as sound effects, but instead just the dialogue of the movie. The same a closed captions, subtitles can be turned on and off.

Some movie theaters offer limited showings of movies with open captions (OC). Unlike closed captions and subtitles on your television that can be turned on and off, open captions are "open" to the entire audience and cannot be turned off by a member of the audience. Advertisements and previews shown before movies are usually not captioned.

Other video presentations such as those shown at national monuments, museums, and theme parks sometimes offer reflective captions, also known as rear window captioning, where captions are displayed in mirror image behind the viewing audience. People who wish to view the reflective captions can ask for a clear sheet of plastic on a stand, which they set up at an angle to view the reflection of the captions behind them and the video in front of them at the same time.

Similar to reflective captions, some of the latest trends in technology for captioning in movie theaters include closed caption glasses and the closed caption device which are quickly replaced open captions at the movies. One reason for this may be because only the user of the captioning device sees the captions, whereas with open captions, some hearing movie goers complain about the captions, which is why box office attendants typically ask customers if they understand that the tickets they are buying are for an open captioned showtime, as to reduce complaints.


© 1999 - 2024 F. C. Stamps, M.Ed.