Access Symbol- Telephone Access: Is TTY Still Needed?

Just a generation ago the only way for people who were Deaf or hard of hearing to use the phone was to ask a hearing person for help. If the call was personal, this meant someone else knew your private information. By the 1970s, a variety of dependable Tele-Typewriters or Text-Telephones (TTYs) were available. Unfortunately, these devices only solved the telephone communication problem if you were calling someone or someplace that also had a TTY, and very few did!

Today people with deafness and hearing loss have a variety of new technologies to choose from; instant messaging (IM) devices, e-mail, telephone and video relay services (available through the internet, phone lines or wireless devices) and cell phones with text messaging. As a result, some people have decided to get rid of their land line phones and rely on the new technologies for telecommunication. Before you toss your old land line, however, there are some things you might want to consider.

None of these new technologies allow you to dial 911 and connect with your local emergency dispatcher. 911 calls made with cell phones go to a central location in the state, and your name and address do not appear on the dispatcher’s screen. With a land line phone you can ask to include information on the screen to indicate that a person who is Deaf lives at the location and that emergency personnel should not to rely on shouting to locate victims. Internet (VOIP and video relay) phone services do not have the capacity to connect with 911; you must know your local 10-digit emergency number to connect. Some wireless devices can identify your location using GPS signals, but only if your battery power lasts long enough for emergency workers to find you. Finally, in an emergency the service for your wireless device may be down or out of service because it is needed by the emergency services personnel.

So do you keep your land-line phone and TTY or rely on the new technologies? That is a decision you have to make based on your own needs and concerns for safety. When you do make the decision, you may want to consider the limits of each technology and the benefits of having more than one option for getting help or staying connected.

Rich Diedrichsen is Regional Manager of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, Central Region St. Cloud, MN.