From the time Robert H. Weitbrecht made text-telephonys (TTY) possible up to the present, there has always been challenges to making our world all the more accessible. AT&T, one of the most ardent supporters for accessibility, has run into one of those such challenges.

When you call 911 through a regular telephone land line, using a telephone or TTY, your call is automatically connected to your 9-1-1 emergency services center – the 9-1-1 center that serves your location. Your address and phone number are automatically displayed on the computer screen of the 9-1-1 operator, even if you don’t type or say anything. The 9-1-1 operator can send emergency services to your location immediately, and call you back if your call is disconnected.

However while TTYs function as intended by using standard landline phone networks, it has proven challenging to make TTYs function as intended via the internet. With more and more telephones moving to a technology called internet protocol (IP) method (which means all calls are made over the internet, rather than over old telephone wires), it has meant everything is becoming digital. TTYs were not designed for today’s newer connectivity technologies.

This has meant AT&T found themselves needing more time to figure out how to make it possible for TTYs to place emergency calls over IP without issues. To this end, AT&T has been approved a waiver by FCC, so AT&T can have more time to find an effective working solution. TDI supports AT&T in this, as TDI recognizes the challenges inherent in adapting an old technology to current standards.

Here is a message from AT&T:   911 calls with a TTY device are not supported by wireless Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as Wi-Fi. If your wireless device is operating exclusively over an IP network, persons with communications disabilities can still reach 911 services by either (1) dialing 911 directly using a TTY from a wireless phone over a cellular network or from a landline phone, or (2) sending a text message to 911 directly (in areas where text-to-911 is available) using a wireless device, or (3) using relay services to place a TTY or captioned telephone service (CTS) call from a wireless phone over the cellular network or from a landline phone, or (4) using relay services to place a IP Relay or IP CTS call over a cellular data or other IP network. AT&T is focused on meeting the needs of all its customers and our provision of IP-based services and alternative accessible communications solutions are further examples of that commitment.

If you are a AT&T customer and find yourself among those who rely on a TTY and your current telephone solution functions over the internet, not via landline, please keep in mind that if you need to place an emergency call, use alternative solutions as TTYs are not supported. As AT&T has suggested, good alternative solutions include:

  • Dial 911 directly using TTY via a mobile phone (make sure the phone is not on Wi-Fi)
  • Send a text message using your mobile phone to 911 if it is offered in your area
  • Use relay services to call 911 via TTY, captioned telephone service (CTS), or via the video relay service using cellular (not wifi) on your mobile phone
  • Use IP Relay, CTS, or VRS to place a 911 call

If those solutions do not work for you, it may be best to keep your landline installed and your TTY connected to that while maintaining your current internet solution. Make sure you are able to connect to 9-1-1 by calling them on your TTY. If you do place a test 9-1-1 call, make sure you tell the operator that it is a test call and that it is not an emergency, then verify they are able to see your phone number and address of the location you are calling from. If the information is not correct, you should talk to your phone service provider to determine what the issue is.

If you opt to maintain your landline TTY solution, make sure your TTY will work if there is a power outage. Most TTYs have a better that provides limited power on a back-up basis. This should be enough to place an emergency call. Do test your TTY by unplugging your TTY and calling someone to verify it still works. If your TTY is one of those that relies on a telephone handset, then do keep in mind that most telephones require electricity to work and do not have back-up power. You may want to either upgrade your TTY or phone to a solution that does have a battery and will work even during power outages.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that during power outages, internet lines require electricity to work. So if you opt to use an alternative other than a landline TTY solution, be sure to have a backup plan for in case there is a power outage.

Claude Stout, TDI Executive Director, said, “TDI thanks AT&T for its’ petition with the FCC to get waivers in order to provide support for us to have TTY functionality over the Internet Protocol networks. We thank the FCC for granting the waivers to AT&T, and not holding it legally responsible until a time is set for compliance with its 9-1-1 emergency calling rules. This is one more instance of the efforts in accessibility that AT&T seeks to conduct for the deaf and hard of hearing community across the nation.”

If you have any questions regarding the AT&T waiver recently approved by FCC, please do feel free to contact FCC or to reach out to Linda Vandeloop (AVP External Affairs/Regulatory) by sending her an email at [email protected] or by calling her at (202) 457-3033.