Good Bye TTY

Good Bye TTY?

by Kevin Ball

Editor: The following article by Kevin Ball recently appeared in DHHIG (Deaf & Hard of Hearing In Government) News, which is the publication of an organization of people with hearing loss who work for the government. Kevin advocates the use of Instant Messaging (IM) technology to replace much of the functionality provided by a TTY. Another example of how the technology revolution can assist people with hearing loss.

Thanks to Kevin for permission to reprint this article.


Should you say good-bye to your TTY at work? Most hearing-impaired employees are. In the past year, Instant Messaging (IM) has firmly embedded itself into deaf culture as we have embraced the smiley faces and acronyms such as “LOL”. There are currently 28 million hearing impaired users who rely on IM as a communication medium. What that means is more deaf and hard-of-hearing users are letting their TTY collect dust at their desk in favor of IM.

Instant Messaging (IM) is text based communication software that allow “buddies” to communicate instantly with each other while online. These messages appear as “pop-up” notes on each user’s screen. Outside of text based messaging, IM has the capability to offer voice messaging, streaming media, advertisement of messages and file transfers. It is no longer land based, as IM has gone wireless from it’s traditional desktop applications to PDAs, Cellular Phones and two-way pagers. IM’s potential lies with the obvious benefit of real time capability. Look for IM technology to provide real time bids on E-Bay, the ability to conduct real time e-commerce transactions and Interactive TV, such as soon to come AOL-TV.

IM has grown into a powerful business tool. It is the fastest growing Internet application; with over 1 billion IM messages being sent every day. Currently, there are more than 130 million users worldwide, with an astronomical 3 million users signing up every month. IM technology is so popular; it has proliferated into various versions such as AOL’s Instant Messenger, MSN’s Messaging Service and Pow-wow’s Tribal Voice. Yahoo, Excite, MultiMate, iCast and Alta Vista also provide their own version of IM. However, AOL has a dominant lead in IM, it controls over 90% of the market.

For the worksite, the benefits of IM are clear. The productivity that comes with the ability to send a quick-real time- instant message has its uses, but there are other notable productivity enhancements. One is you can track the online presence of your “buddies”, or co-workers, so you always know if they are there or not. Like e-mail, co-workers can exchange text, video and audio files.

For the deaf, IM brings everything that TTY provides; text based communication, instantaneous response and the ability to print conversations. In addition, IM is an efficient and very cost-effective medium (its costs nothing to download) for co-workers and supervisors to communicate effectively with deaf employees. The historical barrier to communication is minimized as the communication facilitator, whether an interpreter, co-worker, laptop or CART reporter is removed from the conversational process.

IM removes your hearing peers from the responsibility of learning and applying standard TTY protocol such as “GA” and “SK;” how to identify an incoming TTY call, and how to connect it to the phone. For offices that serve the public directly, the need for them to provide a TTY number for hearing impaired people to call for information is alleviated. IM also eliminates the need for Telecommunication Relay Services if the end user has IM.

Another benefit of IM in the worksite is the ability to hold office meetings in the chat room, which obviously alleviates the need for a communication facilitator if one could not be located. This provides a reasonable alternative if the meeting must occur immediately and an interpreter could not be located. In addition, it alleviates the need for a note taker at the meeting because the conversation can be printed.

The only argument against IM as an alternative communication medium is interoperability and security. Interoperability allows people to communicate with co-workers and friends regardless of what IM version they use. As AOL IM users, for example can attest to their dismay, the frustration of being unable to communicate with their “buddies” who use MSN or Yahoo. Agency IT Security officers allege their servers could be infiltrated with viruses because of the live continuous link associated with IM. However, their concerns have been unfounded as there has been no reported cases, whatsoever, of this occurring. Remember, IM is an Internet application, it is no different from a browser, and it works on the same Internet Protocol (IP). If security is still an issue, then the agency could purchase a license; operate it on their internal web server. This way, IM would be Intranet based instead of Internet, protected by internal firewalls. Further, all users would share the same version, whether AOL or Yahoo. Thus, interoperability would not be a problem.

Now you know the benefits of IM at your worksite. Why don’t you ask your agency if IM is feasible as an alternative communication medium and pack that dusty TTY away?

(c) DHHIG News