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Telecommunications and the Deaf - TDD's/Relay/Telephones

Keywords: Instructional Strategies, Deaf Education, K-12

Submitted by: Roxanne York

Tasks: To explain the laws regarding telecommunications accessibility for people who are deaf, and how those laws have been implemented in Ohio. To provide the teaching implications of such laws and some teaching strategies to keep in mind when discussing TDD's, using the relay system, and talking on the phone.


Alpiner, J. G., & McCarthy, P. A. (1993). Rehabilitative Audiology: Children and adults(2nd ed.). Maryland: Williams & Wilkens.

Castle, D. L. (1988). Telephone strategies: A technical and practical guide for hard of hearing people. Maryland: Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc.

Erber, N. P. (1985). Telephone Communication and the Hearing Impaired. California: College Hill Press.

House of Representatives (Sep 27, 1989). American with Disabilities Act: TDD & Telecommunications Relay Services: Hearing before the subcommittee on telecommunications and finance of the committee on energy & commerce. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Center for Access Unlimited. (1991). Achieving physical and communication accessibility.

Ohio Relay Service (1992). (video) Ohio: Ameritech.

Deyo, D. (1984). Ring/Flash: Telephone skills for deaf and hard of hearing students. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.


Communication accessibility is the way information is conveyed through signing, materials, technology, and interpersonal exchanges. The American with Disabilities Act, signed on July 26, 1990, expresses the importance of including people with disabilities in everyday life interactions. It ensures non-discrimination with regard to employment with reasonable accommodations, and public accessibility including telecommunications availability. A disability are those people with a physical and/or mental impairment which limits a major life activity.

Some accommodations necessary to provide accessibility to individuals with hearing impairments includes amplified handsets on telephones, or providing TDD services. A TDD, which stands for Telecommunication Display Device, is a portable electronic machine with a visual display and/or printer used with a telephone that allows hearing impaired people to type and read conversations over the phone. Another type of TDD is a TTY or teletypwriter. Some drawbacks to TDD's are that they range from $150 to $1000 and can only be used if the other person has one also.

Another method of communication is the relay service. Mandated by law, all states now must provide some sort of relay services for people with TDD's. With the relay service a hearing impaired person can call someone without a TDD. This allows for greater freedom within the Deaf community. The Ohio Relay Service is an example of this service. The hearing person or TDD user will call the relay service and place a call. A third person, through TDD and voice, will relay the message. This service bridges the gap between TDD and non-TDD users. On July 26, 1993 The subcommittee on telecommunications and finance discussed having a compatible interstate relay service. Ohio Relay can connect a TDD user anywhere in the world, but capabilities vary by state. MCI just recently announced a new TTY calling card that will enable deaf individuals to use their TTY while away from home and ease long distance calling problems. It should be available in December.

The third method of communication for the hard of hearing is mandated by the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act, which requires that all telephones be manufactured with an inductive coil that is compatible with hearing aids. This will allow hard of hearing individuals to use their telecoil setting to amplify sound while using the telephone.

Some reasons hearing impaired people don't use telephones is due to the difficulty understanding acoustic speech signals by themselves or they feel their speech intelligibility is inadequate. The three main variables that determine the success of a conversation deals with conversation complexity (whether the person is talking about a concrete thing of their interest or something abstract), talker cooperation (if the person is talking to someone they know or to a stranger), and the distance between communicators (a face-to-face conversation vs. calling California). Teacher Implications:

Normally children learn telephone skills at an early age. They have experiences that teach them how to begin a conversation, to obtain information, turn taking skills, to provide information with out the help of visual cues, and how to end a conversation. Deaf children usually don't have these skills and must be given opportunities to learn them. Some skills that can be taught are how to hold a receiver, how to recognize common sounds, how to dial, skills dealing with typing, using language and vocabulary, typical TDD protocol and abbreviations, turn taking, how to use a telephone book and operator, and general rules of telephone etiquette. These skills can't be expected to be known and must be taught like everything else.

Some strategies to achieve these skills are listed below. Hearing Impaired students can be taught to talk on the telephone and ease conversation difficulty by explaining their hearing loss to the other person, by asking for someone else to speak with a lower pitched voice or to speak slower, to eliminate noise problems and distractions, to repeat or rephrase a word, to spell the word or number out, to count or say the alphabet until they get to the desired letter or number, to use code words (i.e. B as in boy), to say individual numbers (i.e. one three five for one hundred thirty five), to repeat the key word in the sentence, and to confirm and/or clarify what the talker said by asking questions (i.e. Did you say...).

Other methods for communicating include using a hearing assistant to relay the message, using a number code such as the CB 10code, using International Morse Code, or by using a speech code with varying syllables (i.e. "No, Yes-Yes, Please repeat that"), or by using e-mail and the internet from a PC.

Some of the key concepts to keep in mind when teaching students how to use the TDD are how to set up a TDD, how to identify and interpret light signals, using TDD abbreviations, the basic procedures to start a conversation (identify who you are, state your purpose, GA), and how to finish a conversation (SK).

Some activities that can be used to achieve this are by role playing conversations first with set scripts and then improvisational topics, by practicing with actual functional equipment, and by reading scenarios and answering questions. Benefits:

There are three main benefits from TDD and telephone exposure. By learning how to use these types of equipment reduces isolation. Deaf students will know how to use TDD's and will be able to talk to other hearing impaired peers. With the new relay system deaf and hearing individuals alike do not have to be separated by long distances and can communicate more effectively. Teaching these skills is a practical application of such social skills as turn taking which can then be generalized to other interactions and may not be learned otherwise. These systems increase communication accessibility and allow hearing impaired people to enjoy the same freedoms that hearing people have, such as getting a job, calling out for pizza, and talking to their friend across town.


I feel that TDD and telephone skills are important and should be taught to hearing impaired children. One can't expect them to pick it up on their own. Assistive Listening Devices as well as TDD's and telephone skills should be included on IEP's in order to help students prepare for getting a job as well as self help and life skills.


How do we make TDD's more affordable?

What other teaching strategies can be used to teach phone, TDD, and other social/life skills?

When can we squeeze all of these lessons into the school day/year?


Felledorf, G. V. (ed.). (1984). Develop & deliver: Proceedings of the first international conference on assistive listening devices for hearing impaired people.

Sanders, D. M. (1988). Teaching deaf children: techniques & methods. Mass: Little, Brown, & Co., Inc.

Sign Media (1989). Using your TTY/TDD. (video). Maryland: Telecommunication for the Deaf, Inc.

Uploaded by: Melissa Close/Kent State University/Deaf Education Major