Text Phones for the Deaf

by Andrew Latham

Until recently, deaf people did not have access to telephony services without the help of a hearing person. However, there are now a wide variety of telephones and assistance systems to help deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals communicate over the phone. Most recently, the advent of the cell phone has made telephone communication even easier for the deaf.

Tele Typewriter

The first type of text phone available was the tele typewriter, or TTY. The TTY is a type of analog SMS transmitter and receiver. TTYs are still widely used by the deaf, the hard-of-hearing and the speech impaired. A TTY is made up of a typewriter with a small screen where messages are printed. For TTY to work, both parties in a conversation must have access to a TTY. When using a TTY, users must take turns in typing the message which is converted into sound signals and transmitted over the telephone line. Once the signals are received by the other TTY, the sound signals are converted back into text.

TTY Types

There are a wide selection of TTYs available to the deaf and speech impaired, depending on their needs. Printing TTYs provide a written record of a conversation that can be read and re-read once the conversation has finished. Non-printing TTYs, the basic model, only print the conversation on the screen. Portable TTYs are smaller and can be connected to a cellphone to increase the typing speed of SMS messages.

Relay Services

The main limitation of text phones for the deaf is that both participants in the conversation need to have a text phone. This is a problem when trying to call an organization or individual with no access to a text phone or TTY. In these cases, deaf and speech impaired people can use a relay service to communicate. The user must first call a relay operator and provide the phone number of the person or business he wants to call. The relay operator calls the number, explains to the receiver how voice relay communication works and provides the name of the caller. The relay operator then voices what the text phone user types and types what the hearing person says.


TTY and relay services are not as essential to the deaf and speech impaired now because of the widespread use of cellphones with SMS capabilities. Now the deaf and speech impaired can communicate by text with anybody who has access to a cellphone. Also, specially designed phones and cellphones for the hearing impaired come with an inductive coupler designed to work with your analog hearing aid to cut out background noise.

About the Author

Andrew Latham has worked as a professional copywriter since 2005 and is the owner of LanguageVox, a Spanish and English language services provider. His work has been published in "Property News" and on the San Francisco Chronicle's website, SFGate. Latham holds a Bachelor of Science in English and a diploma in linguistics from Open University.

Photo Credits

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