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Glossary > Teletypewriter (TTY)

Teletypewriter (TTY)

A model type of the teletypewriter or teleprinter (TTY) was commercially produced in 1920. However, its 1960 commercial and personal design is accredited to Robert H. Weitbrecht who was a deaf scientist. The teletypewriter was heralded by individuals who were having severe hearing problems or had speech impairments and who could not take advantage of using a telephone.

With a TTY, the deaf community no longer needed to depend on family and friends to communicate via telecommunication equipment on their behalf. Now, the hard of hearing, the deaf, or speech impaired individuals could use teletype machines to call each other.

An earlier version of the TTY device was large and bulky like those used by the US Army in the 1950s, which weighed around 200 pounds. But during the 1980s they became lighter and smaller. Their availability was distributed through government and state-sponsored Telecommunications Relay Programs.

What Is A Teletypewriter (TTY)?

TTY stands for ‘text telephone’ or ‘telephone typewriter.’ In its earlier concept, the US government, followed by the public began calling their teletypewriter a TDD which is the acronym for Telecommunication Device for the Deaf. The name TDD is often used today.

A TTY device is an electronic communication machine that is used in concert with a landline telephone. TTY allows a person using a similar QWERTY keyboard that is used today, but with coded letters that convert keystrokes into short high tone sounds. The receiver of a TTY message would also be equipped with a TTY device that converts the beeps or tones into a typed message on a display screen.

Title IV of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires equal access to communication devices for people with disabilities who use teletypewriters, TTYs or TDDs. Title II of The ADA requires State and local governments to acknowledge this disability right. 

Title III which includes businesses and nonprofit organizations to acknowledge landline teletype as a communication device for the disabled. The goal is to ensure that communication for people with hearing and sight disabilities is equally shared and is made convenient for their daily use.

Teletypewriter relay services are also provided throughout the country for easy access to non-Internet services for TTY device users. A teletypewriter relay service is available in the following modes:

  • Speech-to-Speech
  • Voice Carry Over (VCO)
  • Hearing Carry Over (HCO)

Smartphones are also equipped with teleprinter adaptive features which can be chosen as one of the call settings:

  • Full (Text-Only Communication) - Individuals can receive and send typed messages.
  • HCO (Hearing CarryOver) - You will receive voice-activated incoming and reply messages by typing.
  • VCO (Voice CarryOver) - You will receive both a reply and send a text message by speaking your message.

TTY Health Insurance

Since a terminal interface device is considered a necessary transmission equipment under the ADA, Medicare supports teletype users under their Rehabilitation Act of 1973. To be fitted with a TTY device, a person only requires a doctor or medical professional’s written approval. Medicare covers teletype devices if the equipment is manufactured and distributed by a supplier that is approved by Medicare.

Trained staff members in the use of teletypewriters are also a requirement by the ADA. Businesses around the nation must employ individuals who have been trained to communicate with 7-1-1 TTY relay services. For this reason and because TTYs are associated with emergency services, Medicare and certain state-sponsored disability programs with trained staff members are a necessary requirement.

Modern Teletypewriter Usage

Teletypewriters have gone through technology updates. Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a ruling to replace teletypewriter devices. A new technology update is called ‘round-trip time’ or ‘RTT’ which operates using a Wi-Fi system.

RTT increases the amount of time it would normally take a teletype placed call to receive and send messages. RTT technology eliminates any time delay when users need emergency help or simply wishes to make an instant call.

The FCC states that individuals who have speech impediments or hearing problems can join the rest of the world in using wireless TTY communication devices. Standard landline phones are no longer needed in terminal interface device communication. Today, personal computers with the right software, keyboard, and/or modems will now feature teletype capabilities.

Is there still a need for the government to continue to provide teletype equipment or train staff to monitor them? Right now, the answer is yes because a majority of U.S. government agencies, businesses, schools, medical facilities, 9-1-1 call centers, are still set-up for TTY relay services. However, this terminal interface technology is still being manufactured throughout the US and around the world.