12 Telecommunications for Deaf Persons (

English Notes
BSL Video

Telecommunication for Deaf People (TDD)

In some countries Deaf people receive machines, from local or central Government, which enable them to communicate by telephone. In Britain, Deaf people who can demonstrate a need for such a machine in their employment may be able to obtain one through their local Access to Work team (ATW).  Some Deaf people purchase the machines if they can afford to.

There are a number of different types of machine available. The earliest model had the trade name Vistel and was followed by an improved model, Vistel II. These machines are now discontinued. The Minicom machine, manufactured in the USA, is currently the most widely used machine available on the British market.

How do they work? The handset of the telephone is connected to a machine which looks like a small typewriter. The person types a message to another person who has the same or a compatible machine. The message appears and moves across the display panel of the machine. The conversation shifts from person to person by using certain codes:

GA Go Ahead (meaning ‘it’s your turn now')

EEE Error in information just typed

SK Stop Keying (used at the end of the conversation)

Some callers also use: NMS for 'No More to Say'

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The conversation usually starts with the person who answers typing: HELLO (name) HERE GA. It may end by either person typing: NMS GO TO SK. If the other person is finished too, s/he types SKSK to terminate the conversation.

Facilities currently available to deaf people:

a) Real-time text conversations (textphone, videophone, MSN etc)

b) Fax

c) Paging

d) Video communications (either through mobile phone or broadband)

e) E-mail (also video-mail)

t) Information retrieval (such as the Internet) and its chat system


Useful services have been introduced:

a) TextDirect relay service – this makes it possible for a Deaf Person to communicate with anyone anywhere anytime in the world.

b) Text enquiry service – a deaf enquirer can find out a person’s telephone number if they have their name and address.

c) Text emergency service – this is similar to the 999 service, but it is run through the TextDirect service.

There are many issues that we need to be aware of:

a) Identification - it is not easy to be sure that the person at the other end of the (TDD) call is the right person.

b) Privacy - how would the deaf caller know if the person at the end of the line is the only person reading what s/he is typing?

c) Cost of using text communication as opposed to voice communication -  When a TDD user types a message, it is seven or eight times slower than when the same message is communicated through speech. This was identified by BT, who set up the Text Rebate Scheme with the RNID.

d) Confusion of different types of calls - normal call or fax call - if a deaf user has a TDD and a fax machine on the same number, it can be confusing when a call comes through.

In the future, mobile communications will be the main method of telecommunication for the majority of Deaf people - they will not need to have separate equipment. Deaf people will be more mobile and be able to control their lives much more effectively.  Video phones are also the next step, although call charges are still very expensive. When the charges are reduced, then we might see an end to the text based devices currently used.

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Legislation on Telecommunications:

There is no direct legislation for telecommunications aside from the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act which stipulates that Local Authorities may provide Deaf people with textphones or faxes.  The Text Rebate scheme was introduced, after pressure by Deaf Organisations, to reduce the cost of calls through textphones. This is a voluntary action by BT and more details can be found at: http://www.rnid-typetalk.org.uk/html/ourservices/comdifficulties/commdiff_billing.asp. In conjunction with the RNID, BT also provides the National Relay Service (known as Textdirect). This service is free of charge and further details can be found at: http://www.rnid-typetalk.org.uk/  



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