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Video Becomes A Reality (1995 – PRESENT)

(1995) Sprint conducts successful video relay trials at four locations in Austin, Texas using AT&T’s PictureTel products on ISDN networks. TDI assists DiRAD in developing the Ultrasilent® Workstation, a device used to convert standard ASCII text to Baudot text prompts from an internal dictionary automatically for interactive menus and voice mail systems.

(1996) New low-cost portable TTYs as well as digital behind-the-ear and in-the-ear hearing aids come on the market. Texas video relay trials expand to ten cities, enabling children at Texas School for the Deaf to call parents, many for the first time.

(1997) Wireless communication devices (cellular phones and e-mail pagers) fill the airwaves with text messages. Sweden becomes the first country to subsidize video relay services (VRS) throughout the country. TTY innovator, I. Lee Brody passes away. Arizona and North Carolina become the first two states to provide VRS via public sites. Sorenson develops VisionLink – its first videophone software was unsuccessful due to lack of high-speed Internet connections.

(1998) 8×8 Company rolls out Video-TTY, an attachment to a television set that enables both parties to see each other as they type. Sorenson develops EnVision, a web-based videoconference product for use with a Webcam and high-speed Internet connection.

(1999) Lucent Technologies announced a network solution to TTY and digital wireless telephone incompatibility. Ameriphone, Krown and Ultratec develop TTYs with 2.5 audio jacks that connect to analog cell phones and household cordless phones as well as microphones and handsets for VCO and HCO users. New generation of amplified phones by Ameriphone, Ultratec and Williams Sound provide clarity for hard of hearing users in telephone conversations. Electronic Telecommunications, Inc. unveils Intercept, a product that sends along TTY tones with voice recordings when TTY callers encounter messages saying that the number dialed is no longer in service. Two-way pagers with TTY, FAX and e-mail capabilities gain popularity on the road. Ultratec and Sprint jointly conduct FasTran trials to improve TRS services using speech recognition technology. New York-New Jersey Phone-TTY donates I Lee Brody’s TTY collection to Gallaudet University. Krown develops Pocket-VCO device with a readout display allowing users to read relay text on the earpiece of a phone handset.

(2000) Gallaudet Press publishes Dr. Harry Lang’s book, A Phone of Our Own, detailing the birth of the TTY network. Broadband technology promise feasible and economical video telecommunications for people using sign language or speechreading. Texas subsidizes web cameras for VRS users. Washington state implements VRS with Microsoft’s NetMeeting software. Bill Gates assures advocates visiting Microsoft’s offices that the computer keyboard will not become obsolete when voice systems become prevalent. Bell Atlantic and GTE merge to become Verizon. AOL/Time Warner merger prompts calls to standardize competing Internet instant messaging protocols. V.18 modem protocol inserted in telephone gateway systems as part of proposed Text-Direct system to give Europeans instant access to TRS services. Ultratec develops CapTel automatic text transcription telephone. Teltronics introduces new mobile computing software that translates speech to text and sign language.

(2001) ISDN displaced as modern broadband Internet services gain a foothold in 8 million American households fueling the rapid growth of video relay. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable modem and fiber optic services were faster, less expensive, and easier to set up and maintain. MCI WorldCom and AT&T Relay implement IP-Relay trials, allowing TTY users to make relay calls through the Internet. AT&T Relay adds TTY-to-TTY User Voice Intercept services for TTY callers who wish to reach TTY users in hotels, hospitals or other places through a switchboard. Pager users gain wireless access to the Internet. MAC computer users enjoy TTY access with SoftTTY. Two-way messaging grows with text messaging on mobile phones. AOL offers pagers for their customers who want email on the go. Eyeball Chat software links competing Instant Messaging (IM) services and video conferencing capabilities.

(2002) First digital wireless handsets with TTY compatibility enter the market. Sprint initiates IP-Relay after FCC permits reimbursement for all Internet-based TRS calls. Sorenson collaborates with D-Link and creates award-winning i2eye videophone with larger video images. CSD and Sprint offers nationwide video relay service (VRS) starting with free webcam promotions.

(2003) Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) raises many new accessibility and funding questions as traditional landline telephone service wanes. High-end wireless devices boast superior text messaging capabilities. Lormar Logic Co., LLC initiates new pager-to-relay service using AOL Instant Messaging. DeafWorks develop flasher to alert deaf users of incoming IM message. In addition to the new EnVision SL, Sorenson launches the VP-100; the first mass-produced TV set-top videophone and implements its own video relay service. Polycom rolls out a line of $3,000+ corporate videoconferencing systems.

(2004) AOL shares IM services with major TRS providers to allow AIM users to conduct IP relay calls. Video phones and webcams gradually replace TTYs in many households and businesses as broadband services become more affordable.

(2005) Mergers in the telecommunication industry change the face of relay service providers: Sprint with Nextel, SBC with AT&T, Cingular with AT&T Wireless, and Verizon with MCI. FCC ruled Spanish relay translators will be reimbursed with TRS funds as the issue of cell phones with hearing aid compatibility emerges to the forefront.

(2006) Captioned telephone services (CTS) available in 42 states, plus federal workers and retirees. Sorenson’s new VP-200 videophone with a visual caller ID uses less bandwidth, and allows user to zoom in during calls. Snap!VRS introduces Ojo, a stand-alone videophone that uses open-source standards. IP-relay and VRS providers distribute toll-free numbers to deaf and hard of hearing users to allow hearing people to place calls through their respective relay call centers.

(2007) 48 states offer CapTel service. Viable Technologies opens video relay service and provides software for making VRS calls through computers using webcams.

(2008) After withdrawing from video relay, Hamilton Relay introduces wireless Mobile CapTel for iPhone and other 3G wireless devices. Viable Technologies debuts their VPAD+ at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(2009) FCC-mandated 10-Digit Numbering Plan require videophone users to switch to local ten-digit telephone numbers linked to their physical address in order to simplify calls between deaf videpphone users, and with VRS as well as 9-1-1 call centers. 20% of IP-relay users had registered for a ten-digit number before deadline. Real-Time Text (RTT) emerges as a feasible alternative to the TTY in the digital age where users can see the other party type character-by-character. VRS providers continue to roll out new video devices and software. U.S. Department of Justice unseals 26 indictments against video relay service provider and six subcontractors in nine states over a nationwide fraud scheme involving illegitimate calls that artificially pad minutes billed for reimbursement by FCC. The last of the original TTY pioneers, Dr. James Carlyle Marsters passes away at the age of 85.

(2010) FCC continues probe of VRS fraud and clarifies regulations for providers. Purple settled on $22 million repayment plan with FCC for excess TRS Fund reimbursements. FCC announces steep proposed VRS rate reductions. With the advent of mobile two-way video calls and texting, deaf and hard of hearing people are no longer tethered to videophones. After Apple unveils iPhone 4 and other products with FaceTime video calling features, AT&T Relay, IWRelay, Purple, Sorenson and ZVRS all release new videophone software and mobile applications or “apps” for Apple products. Vendors upgrade mobile IP relay. Hamilton Relay releases its own mobile iPhone, Android and BlackBerry captioned telephone apps for users. Convo Relay gets $500,000 line of credit to support anticipated growth. Deaf Missouri woman sue eBay over iverification process that requires new users to authenticate themselves via an automatic robot call that does not work with relay services. Innovative students invent prototypes for telecommunication devices of the future such as a mobile videochat app for sign language users, a gadget that helps users “hear” through the skin, or a transparent touch screen for text messaging. Deaf BlackBerry user claims a record-breaking texting typing speed of 75 words per minute. Powhatan Prison in Virginia becomes first prison in the nation to have videophone for deaf inmates. IRS telephone audit reveals that out of 350,000 calls dialed to its TTY line, only 339 calls succeeded in getting through. TDI assists in successful lawsuit where a deaf WalMart pharmacist was barred by the Alabama State Board of Pharmacy from accepting prescription orders over the phone through the relay because the CA was not licensed to dispense medicine.

(2011) Purple Communications launches ClearCaption telephone for hard of hearing people using Cisco office technology. Hamilton displays CapTel 800i phone with TV Ears in marketing partnership debut at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, along with Android CapTel app. Sorenson unveils new ntouch PC and mobile videophones and implements aggressive marketing campaign for its new CaptionCall phone. ZVRS releases mobile videophone products for Apple products and taps Phil Bravin as marketing vice president. Sprint Relay issues mobile apps for users conducting relay calls on the go. Convo Relay launch campaign with a floor ad in Washington DC subway station near Gallaudet University, and a billboard near Texas School for the Deaf in Austin. Alabama diverts state relay funds to pay for children’s health insurance over objections of utility regulators and the deaf community. Monthly relay surcharge fees decline on North Dakota phone bills. Scammers posing as deaf customers using the relay continue to plague small businesses nationwide. Deaf brothers on a two-week trip to Canada unwittingly incurred $200,000 phone bill for international texting charges. Ofcom proposes VRS in Great Britain with a time quota of 30 minutes a month for each person.

(2012) Major reforms by the FCC rock the video relay industry, leading demise of 50 providers who failed to meet requirements and sparking widespread social media discussions. State relay services adjust telephone surcharges in response to changing telecommunications landscape. VRS companies achieve recognition among peers and other stakeholders for innovative business models and product lines. Text messaging and other instant messaging applications continue to open up new avenues of communication. New public videophones placed at schools and community service centers for low-income people who cannot afford Internet access at home. State telecommunication equipment distribution programs expands assistive technology for deaf-blind people. Robert Engelke, CEO of Ultratec, Inc., manufacturer of TTYs and captioned phone, gets honorary doctorate from University of Wisconsin for his efforts in making the telephone accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Dimitri Kanevsky, IBM research staff member honored in White House ceremony celebrating leaders with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Sprint Legends Award recipient, Mike Ellis recognized for innovative relay service leadership. A Blind Navy veteran from Oklahoma provides relay services for deafened veterans calling political campaigns. AT&T looks into apps that turn speech into text and revise FaceTime service plans after learning of adverse impact on deaf iPhone users not subscribing to its unlimited data plan. Researchers at University of Rochester look into crowdsourcing to caption impromptu encounters that deaf people have with hearing people. Miracom unveils InnoCaption, a mobile captioned phone service using CART to generate text with greater speed and accuracy than current systems using automatic speech recognition.

(2013) With the help of third party apps, iPads and other tablets with built in telephone service or wifi connections become popular with deaf and hard of hearing who use them to make video calls or relay calls on the go, promoting employment opportunities. New apps also help enhance hearing for hard of hearing users, provides visual alerting for environmental sounds, and improves speech intelligibility during VoIP calls. Several states introduce new technology to help deaf-blind users as part of the new $10 million National Deaf Blind Equipment Distribution Program. Hospitals, libraries, and other public places install public video phones for deaf people to call. States reevaluate relay surcharges on telephone bills, widening scope to include wireless phones and VoIP phones as well. Sorenson Communications end IP Relay service due to severe cuts in FCC reimbursement rates, leaving only two companies remaining to provide this service. FCC reforms lead to drastic changes in the video relay industry with proposals that would ensure interoperability and portability of VRS services and equipment; contracting with an independent third party to certify that each specific VRS service is interoperable; a VRS reference platform that will serve as a basis for multiple VRS applications; neutral outreach efforts to publicize all forms of TRS, especially with hearing parties; and designating funds to National Science Foundation for some research projects that would produce progress in interoperability, as well as advanced technology for VRS and other forms of TRS. Further reforms impact on IP Captioned Telephone services that would require all CTS phones be set in a default mode with captions off and impose a $75 registration fee from all users.