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ASL: How to Make a Phone Call with a Teletype

The first teletype machine was invented in 1964 by a Deaf physicist named Robert Weitbrecht. With this invention, Weitbrecht opened up the world of tele-conversation to the Deaf. When people refer to teletype machines, they may refer to them as TTYs (TeleTYpe) or as TDDs (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf).

The term TDD came after TTY. Both terms are acceptable, but Deaf people themselves are more apt to use TTY over TDD; they view TDD as a term created by hearing people.

The TTY is a combination of a teletype machine and a telephone. The keyboard of the TTY sends a series of beeps with each letter. These letters are printed across a screen above the keyboard. Some TTYs, but not all, come equipped with text paper that automatically records your conversation.

To use the TTY, place the handle of the phone on the “cups” of the TTY — the earpiece of the receiver always goes on the cup to the right. Dial the phone number of your intended party and wait for it to ring. The light on the TTY machine will flash when the phone is ringing. The party at the other end will start typing as soon as they put their receiver on their TTY cups.

TTYs can be purchased through phone companies or through businesses that specialize in telecommunications. Many Deaf people receive TTYs from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. This agency will purchase TTYs for the deaf consumer to do “whatever services are necessary and appropriate to succeed in employment.” Deaf people are provided TTYs at no cost by some states.

Certain abbreviations are used when conversing on the TTY. This table lists some standard TTY terms.

Common TTY Terms
Abbreviation Meaning Abbreviation Meaning
ok okay crs (any state) relay service
msg/e message asst. assist
ur your thx thanks
shd should ltrs letters
biz business btw by the way
oic oh, I see pls please
u you r are
nbr number misc miscellaneous
tmw tomorrow cn can
cul see you later sk sk hanging up
ga go ahead (signals it’s the other person’s turn to talk)

Here are a few tips on TTY usage:

  • Don’t interrupt a person while he or she is typing; allow him or her to give you a “go ahead” (GA). Interrupting someone during a typical phone conversation may be rude, but doing so doesn’t cause the phone to malfunction.

    On the TTY, though, taking turns is necessary because the TTY has sound activation tones (beeps) that are converted to letters that are punched from the keyboard. If two people try talking at the same time, the sentences won’t appear coherently.

  • If you make an error, just type “XXX” next to the sentence that you want to erase. If you make a small typo of just a letter or word, though, use the delete or backspace key.

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