What is a TTY?

A TTY is a device that enables Deaf and hard of hearing people who cannot hear and/or understand voice conversations over regular telephones to communicate by typing back and forth and reading each other's responses on a small LED or backlit LCD screen. At its most basic, two individuals with TTY's can communicate directly with one another in such a manner; there are also other, more complex communication methods using TTY's, such as Voice Carry Over and Hearing Carry Over. These are discussed on the website for the Massachusetts Relay Service , which provides these services as well as "conventional" text - to - voice and voice - to - text translation.

You may encounter three different terms referring to this portable telecommunication device: TTY, TDD, or text telephone. TTY is the historical term which is a remnant of the days when access to the telephone was first provided for Deaf people by the use of the Western Union Teletypewriter, originally used for provision of telegraph service. This initial access to the telephone was obviously vitally important to Deaf people - a first step to freedom in a sense -, and the term " TTY" took on that importance also. Many deaf people still prefer to use the term " TTY" because of its expression of heritage and because it is easier to pronounce, fingerspell, and speechread. For these reasons, most Deaf people in Massachusetts continue to use the term " TTY" although the more recent term TDD ( Telecommunication Device for the Deaf), which is fairly self-explanatory, is often used .

A still newer term, "Text Telephone", began to appear with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act but has yet to gain widespread acceptance because its application was never standardized. For simplicity's sake, MCDHH encourages users of the TTY/TDD to pick one terminology and stay with it consistently when publicizing the availability of said communication device.

Using the TTY

There are essentially two ways to use a TTY:

  • Acoustic Mode
  • Direct Connect Mode

Acoustic Mode is, as the name implies, accomplished by using a regular telephone to dial the call, except that the telephone handset is placed on the acoustic couplers of the TTY. When using a TTY in acoustic mode, care must be taken to match the shape of the telephone handset to the shape of the TTY's acoustic couplers to allow for a tight seal, which prevents external noise interference. Also, there must be an electric outlet close enough to the telephone to allow the TTY's power adapter to be plugged into it.

  • Turn on the TTY
  • Place the telephone handset in the TTY coupler. Be aware that the cord end of the handset has to be placed in the coupler on the left side of the TTY.
  • Dial the telephone in the usual manner.
  • Check the "signal" light near the screen. A steady blink indicates the phone is ringing. A rapid blink indicates the phone is busy, while an erratic blink indicates that you have either reached a person or an answering machine at the other end. .
  • Type your messages. Consult TTY Etiquette section for more details.
  • Hang-up the telephone when the conversation is finished.
  • Turn off the TTY.
  • To answer an incoming call: pick up the phone handset at the ring and listen for the characteristic TTY tones before placing handset on TTY coupler and turning TTY on.

Direct Connect is the preferred mode of using TTY's because it guarantees freedom from any type of external noise interference and also optimizes the features of contemporary TTY's. In this mode, the TTY will have at least one - and often two - telephone line jack(s), one for the phone line from the wall outlet and one for a telephone. By connecting the TTY directly to the wall jack, the TTY essentially "becomes" the telephone, allowing users to dial directly from the TTY. A typical call sequence is given below:

  • Turn on the TTY.
  • Press and hold "Ctrl" key, then press "Dial" key at the same time.
  • Dial the number by typing in a stored Directory name (when applicable), or simply type out the phone number you wish to reach.
  • Hit Return. The TTY will dial the number itself. When other TTY user answers, type back and forth. Consult TTY Etiquette section for more details.
  • Most TTY's will tell you whether the line is "ringing" or "busy" on the other end. As above, an erratic blink indicates that you have either reached a person or an answering machine at the other end.
  • To end the phone call, press "Ctrl" and "Hang-up" ( or similar), or simply turn off the TTY.
  • To answer an incoming call: at the signal from the TTY alert light or external device monitor, turn the TTY on and type your greeting. TTY's do not have built-in ringers. Audible and visible alerting devices can be purchased at your local specialty store or RadioShack.

This is the preferred method of making a business or service accessible. If your agency receives frequent TTY calls and/or has a heavy load on the answering desk, it may be helpful to get a dedicated telephone line reserved exclusively for receiving TTY calls. This line can be a totally separate number or a particular extension on your telephone. When that particular line rings, the person at the extension or switchboard will automatically know that there is an incoming TTY call. Additionally, many features on modern TTY's, such as AutoAnswer, Direct Dialing, Speed Dialing and others, are only possible with Direct Connect TTY's.

Please Note: AutoAnswer is not to be used as a substitute for live assistance. If you provide live assistance to voice callers and a TTY AutoAnswer message to Deaf callers, you are providing two separate and inequal levels of service.

Recently, some TTY's have become available that are cellular-phone compatible. These are generally lightweight and battery-operated, and are either designed to accept direct input from certain cellular phones directly or require a cellular interface adapter. Some of them also allow for acoustic coupling with a cellular phone, which can be difficult given the many non-standard cellular phone sizes and the noisy environments in which they are often used.

Publicizing your TTY number

Have your TTY number printed on all business letterhead, brochures, business cards, posters and other promotional materials. For example:

  • 617-123-4567 TTY/V (indicating that the number is accessible by TTY and voice)
  • 508-123-4567 TTY (indicating that the number is accessible by TTY only)

Finally, have your TTY number advertised in publications geared specifically for Deaf and hard of hearing people. Please contact the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for a listing of these publications.

It is not necessary to notify the local telephone company that you have a TTY. The TTY itself will not interfere with any of your telephone calls or voice answering machines.

Special Features of a TTY

Most basic TTYs have fairly standard features such as a display screen and a 3 or 4 row keyboard. However, there are many other additional options available which may suit your needs.

ASCII TTY:This TTY is able to communicate with a personal computer if the computer has the appropriate software and a modem.
Auto Answer:This feature automatically answers calls with your personal auto-answer message.
Auto ID:This automatically sends TTY tones to alert the answering party that it is a TTY call.
Direct Connect:This connects the TTY directly to your phone line which allows you to dial directly from the TTY keyboard.
Large Print:Some models come with a built-in high speed printer that gives you a choice of standard, condensed or large letter sizes for easy reading.
Memory:Some TTYs have memory capability. This allows you to save and store your TTY conversations for later review, and enables you to type very quickly.
Printer:A paper printout of your TTY conversation can be important especially for agencies and safety service providers to verify information and to minimize delays in service delivery.
Voice Announcer:Some TTYs can be programmed to alert the person receiving the call that it is a TTY call. The caller taps the space bar which activates an "artificial" voice announcing the incoming TTY call to the person receiving it.
Large Text
Some TTY's have large text displays for visually impaired users. These can be integrated into (internal) or connected to (external) the TTY.

TTY Etiquette

Answer by saying: HELLO, THIS IS (NAME and AGENCY) GA. Indicate that it is the other person's turn to respond by typing GA "go ahead." While many current TTYs are equipped with "Turbo Code," which enables the users to communicate as fast as they can type ( older TTY's had significant delay issues, sending information slower than it could be typed ) and even interrupt one another when they need to, it is still wise to take turns.

Punctuation marks are not commonly used during TTY conversations. Simply skip a couple of spaces between sentences.

Don't worry about spelling errors or "bad typing." Continue on with the conversation without backtracking to make corrections. If you do wish to make corrections, you can either type out a line of X's ( XXXXXX) and then retype the correct information, or you can use the backspace key to go back and "fix" your error as long as it still appears on the screen.

To end a TTY conversation, use GA or SK which means " Go Ahead or Stop Keying." This indicates to the other person that you are ready to end the conversation but allows an opportunity for additional comments. When the conversation is complete, both parties will type SKSK.

Express emotions in words. A TTY conversation may seem impersonal or awkward if you are not familiar with this particular method of communication. Because the TTY does not pick up vocal cues, it is sometimes important to express your feelings or moods. This can be done by typing responses such as SMILE, GRRRR, SIGH, HAHA and so forth.

Some common abbreviations: Although you don't have to use them, you will find that certain abbreviations are quite helpful. Listed below are some commonly used ones:

Qquestion mark
HDHold on
THXThank you

People who regularly converse together may also invent additional abbreviations for their own use. Abbreviations help reduce the amount of time spent communicating on the TTY. A 5 minute voiced conversation, for example, may take up to 20 minutes on the TTY because of typing speed and communication style. A fast typist can type only about 80 words per minute. People commonly speak at approximately 180 to 240 words per minute.

Alternative Technology

There is computer software technology available that allows personal computers to have TTY characteristics. This technology involves the use of an external or internal modem. Some manufacturers have designed modems with TTY, FAX, and other data capabilities. Other manufacturers have developed specific computer software or keyboards with built-in TTY capability. Features vary among these products. Please contact the Commission for a current list of manufacturers of Computer/TTY or modem/software products.

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.