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In mid-December, AT&T unveiled Real-time Text (RTT) communication service to better serve the deaf, deaf-blind, and speaking impaired community. RTT is intended to replace the older text telephone (TTY) communication service that has been in use since the 1960s, despite vast technological improvements in the meantime.

TTY provided an accessibility solution to many individuals who were hearing and speech impaired, enabling them to communicate with others and avoid social isolation. The TTY system resembles a laptop computer with a keyboard, a display screen, and a modem; users type a message, which is relayed over a phone line to the receiving TTY unit’s display screen or printer.

Despite their revolutionary impact on society, TTY messages have never been an instantaneous or efficient solution. Notable shortcomings impact a TTY user’s ability to communicate at a level equal to the telephone, including:

  • TTY has a limited selection of device-generated characters
  • The TTY service has relatively slow performance
  • TTY requires its parties to take turns sending messages

But now, RTT is ringing in a new era. With RTT, once a single letter is typed, it is displayed immediately on the receiving individual’s screen, just as if they were hearing a phone conversation. RTT allows for a more conversational experience, without requiring participants to take turns talking.  Even more revolutionary, RTT enables users to communicate using the large selection of characters generated by their smartphone devices. Whether it’s punctuation necessary to communicate an address to 911 emergency services, or an emoji to express how you really feel about your boss, RTT will provide improved communication and safety for individuals with disabilities.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a phased rollout of RTT for wireless networks through June 2021. This rollout includes being able to call 911 for emergency services using RTT, and handset manufacturer and wireless provider support of RTT.

Communicating in real-time with RTT is quite simple:

  • Confirm that your device’s operating system is its latest version;
  • Install the AT&T Real-Time Text app on your device, which will allow you to communicate with other users using RTT or TTY methods; and then…
  • Start texting!

It doesn’t matter if you use iOS, Android, or Wi-Fi calling – if you’re an AT&T customer you can say goodbye to clunky TTY machines.