WASHINGTON (ABC7) — A new Federal Communications Commission mandate could revolutionize text message communication for deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as hearing people.
It's called real-time text, also known as RTT and many in the deaf community say it is about time.
The FCC voted in December to phase out TTY teletypewriter systems and transition to RTT on smartphones.
“It gives us greater options for communication access just like any hearing person who wants to make a call and connection without a delay,” said Dr. Christian Vogler, Gallaudet University’s Technology Access Program Director.
His program helped develop RTT with other collaborators like AT&T. Gallaudet’s senior research engineer Norman Williams now holds the patent for RTT.
Real-time text is exactly what it sounds like. Similar to iPhone text bubbles that show up when a message is being created, with RTT, users actually see words and sentences being formed in real time.
“So the immediacy of being able to think about and respond to the conversation in real time is very important,” Vogler said.
Developers predict hearing people will also embrace RTT because it mimics regular conversations, spoken or signed, allowing for quick back and forth in fractions of a second.
This is unlike TTY, which many deaf people rarely use or have never used because it can be so slow.
“It requires a lot of patience and you can't interrupt. And you feel completely disconnected from the person. You're reading flat text. There's no sense of the person's emotions,” said Gallaudet University employee Eyob Zerayesus.
Advocates believe the efficiency of RTT will save lives during an emergency or natural disaster. It also allows deaf people to communicate without an interpreter, offering privacy during sensitive or intimate conversations.
Video phones are not going away. But for rural communities or individuals who lack high-speed internet access, RTT will eventually replace TTY.
The FCC has set multi-year deadlines for the roll-out of the technology, starting with the four major carriers in December 2017.