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E-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing People.

TTY or TDD: The Text Telephone


Close up of TTY device

TTY device – Tele Typewriter

Introduction to the TTY

A TTY is one of the most commonly used accommodations by people who are unable to understand speech on the telephone. TTY is an acronym for Tele Typewriter– a device that uses text instead of voice to communicate via telephone lines. Sometimes the acronym TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) is also used for the same device. This term is used less frequently since we prefer to describe the device, rather than those who use it (some people who use a TTY are not deaf).

The TTY enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired to converse on the telephone by typing messages that are sent through the telephone network. A TTY works by converting text messages into a sound–based code (loud beeps) that are transmitted through the telephone line. The person on the other end of the line must also use a TTY to decode the sounds back into text. Each party in the conversation takes a turn typing a message and then reads the response of the other person.

When a person who uses a TTY wants to converse on the phone with someone who does not have a TTY a Relay service is used. See below for more information.

Using a TTY

Using a TTY is simple if you keep a couple basics in mind.

The TTY must be connected to a phone line. There are two ways to do this. One is with Direct Connect. The TTY comes with a phone cord that plugs directly into the phone jack. A flashing light on the TTY (and possibly connected to a larger lamp) alerts that there is an incoming call.

The second way to connect a TTY to the phone is through a coupler. This is demonstrated in the picture below. Many units will have a diagram on the machine to show which way the handset is placed on the cups. Most times the handset piece that you speak into is placed on the left, with the ear piece to the right. To use the coupler, dial or answer the phone as normal and place the phone handset on the TTY cups as shown.

TTY with phone handset on the TTY cups (coupler).

TTY with phone handset on the cups (coupler).

A TTY uses a QWERTY keyboard, similar to that on a computer. The keyboard is slightly smaller than a computer keyboard and will require adjustment. Most new users will need to look at the keyboard while typing.

TTY callers must take turns sending messages. Unlike traditional phone conversations, you cannot interrupt the other person. To facilitate taking turns, codes are used to let the other caller know it is their turn.

GA= Go ahead. When I am done with my statement, I type GA. That lets the other party know it is their turn. When that person finishes a thought, he or she also types GA.

GA or SK= Go ahead or stop keying. When I want to wrap up the conversation, I say GA or SK to let the other person know I am done, and they can either continue to talk or prepare to hang up.

SKSK= Stop keying and hang up. After a polite, GA or SK, one party will signal the end of the conversation with SKSK, often preceded with Good Bye. The other party responds likewise with SKSK. At this point, the conversation is complete. Be sure to hang up the phone.

TTY calls require a great deal of typing, good understanding of written language, and do not allow for voice inflection, facial expression, or the many other ways we convey information in normal conversation. When conversing with someone who you do not know very well or regarding an unfamiliar topic, these tips will help the call go more smoothly.

  • Use simple language and short sentences.

  • Provide only one piece of information at a time then check for understanding before going on.

  • Use pleasantries as you would in any phone conversation. How are you? Have a good day, Etc.

Choosing and Purchasing

There is a large variety of TTY models available. See Where to Purchase for a selection of retailers.

One consideration is whether you plan to use direct connect or a coupler. Many units are prepared for either method.

You will also need to determine if you want a printing TTY or a non–printing TTY, (about a $200 difference.) Remember that you cannot watch text on a screen and look at anything else at the same time. Many hearing people, especially in business settings, are used to looking at other information while listening to someone on the phone. In this case, a printer will allow you to look away from the TTY for a moment while the other person is talking, then look back at the tape to see what was said. Keep in mind, that if you do not record ALL callers’ conversations, you should not retain TTY tapes of deaf people’s conversations. This is a violation of privacy.

There are portable TTYs’ that are compact enough for a brief case or purse. Large print displays make reading easier for those with limited vision. Some TTY’s have built in answering machines, and others are designed to plug into cellular phones. Other features are also available.

SBC Special Needs Center for TTY’s

SBC Special Needs Center provides individuals who are certified as deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired the option of purchasing a TTY at a reduced cost. Payments can be made over 24 months along with the monthly telephone bill. Call 800–433–8505 (voice/TTY) or click here for more information.

MADHH TTY Distribution Program

Any deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired individual in Michigan, who meets financial criteria and is certified as hearing or speech impaired, may be eligible to obtain a free TTY from Michigan Association for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MADHH).

This program is made available through collaboration with Lions Clubs throughout Michigan.

Applicants should complete an application, available from MADHH or click here. Return the application to MADHH and it will be reviewed and information verified. The approved application is then forwarded to the Lions Club in the applicant’s district.

Funding for TTY’s is sought from local District Lions Clubs and/or Service Foundations. Other sources are utilized when available. When funding is secured, MADHH is notified and a new TTY is ordered. MADHH sends the TTY to the applicant and offers training and orientation if desired.

Depending on funding availability, there is usually a waiting period (sometimes six months to a year). Contributions to the TTY fund will speed the process and may be forwarded to MADHH for the benefit of the program.

Contact MADHH at 1–800–YOUR EAR, or

Relay Services

As mentioned above, for two people to have a TTY conversation, both must have a TTY. However, many businesses and individuals do not have these special devices. To provide TTY users with access to all services accessible by traditional telephone, TTY Relay services have been established nation–wide.

In Michigan, Relay services are provided by the Michigan Relay Center (MRC).

Here is how a voice to text relay call works:

A deaf or hard of hearing person uses a TTY to call the Relay Center. A Relay Operator answers the phone using another TTY. The caller provides the Relay Operator with the phone number they wish to reach. The Relay operator places the call. When a hearing person answers the phone, the Relay operator voices an explanation about relay and states the name of the person who initiated the call. When the operator hears the hearing person’s response, the response is typed into the TTY to be read by the TTY user. The call proceeds with the operator voicing what the TTY user types, or typing what the hearing person speaks. If a hearing person wishes to call a TTY user, the procedure is reversed.

For more information on making Relay calls click here.

To contact a Relay Center, simply dial 711 from anywhere within the United States. The service is free. You need only pay long distance charges that apply between the two caller locations. For example, if I am in Texas and dial 711, Texas Relay will answer. The Texas Relay operator will dial the person I want to talk with in Michigan. I will have to pay the long distance charge from my location in Texas to the Michigan location. The call to the Relay Center does not add to or reduce the cost of the long distance call. However, Relay calls do take longer than voice–to–voice or even TTY–to–TTY calls, so expect a higher long distance charge based on time on the line.

Frequent MRC users can set up a Customer Profile that speeds the calling process Click here to establish your Customer Profile.

Other Relay Services

Besides the basic service, additional relay services are offered including:

Voice Carryover
This allows a hard of hearing or deaf person to use their own voice to speak on the phone while reading on the TTY the response of the person they are calling. For more information click here.

Hearing Carryover
People who have a speech impairment and who are able to hear on the phone, may use a TTY to speak while hearing the voice of the person they are calling. Click here for more information.

Speech to Speech
Speech to Speech relay is used by people who have a speech impairment and do not use a TTY. Operators are trained to understand the speech of people with Cerebral Palsy, laryngectomy, or other speech disability. The caller speaks and the operator repeats what was said to the other party. For additional information see the Speech to Speech News.

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