FCC rule aims to help people with disabilities communicate

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working to make it easier for deaf, hard of hearing, speech-disabled and deaf-blind people to communicate with people over the phone. 

The agency announced a proposed rule Thursday that would require wireless phone networks to recognize real-time text starting in December 2017 for large carriers. People with disabilities now use a special device, known as a teletypewriter, or TTY, to send messages back and forth over wireless and landline phones.


That system only works if the people on both ends have a teletypewriter. To receive or relay messages without one, a person would need to dial 711 to get a third-party relay service on the line.

Real-time text, however, the FCC said would allow people to send and receive messages as they are being relayed without a separate device or translator on the line. Unlike traditional text messaging, the agency said the sender would never have to hit “send.”

Karen Peltz Strauss, deputy chief of the FCC’s consumer and governmental affairs bureau, said real-time text is more natural and akin to a voice phone call as opposed to TTY, which requires the use of an outdated device — similar to a keyboard ­— that only types 60 words per minute. 

In drafting the rule, the FCC plans to also look into the possibility of creating similar real-time text capabilities for IP-based landline phone networks with the goal of reducing the reliance on TTY and third-party relay services.  

“This is just the start of a proceeding and we are seeking answers to a lot of questions,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “But our goal is to make sure that millions of Americans with disabilities who rely on text to communicate have accessible and effective telephone access as communications technologies make the transition from circuit-switched to IP-based technologies.”