Phone technology of the visual-spatial culture

Technology has changed so much faster in the 20th century and 21st century. Deaf people have used different gadgets and devices in their single lifetime during these times.

The earliest form of tele-communication among Deaf people, like hearing people, was to pass a message to another person via a messenger (who spoke the same language or who was bilingual) or to physically came to see the person. If one is not present or home, they left a message.

In my old days, I recall my Deaf parents communicated with other Deaf relatives and friends by taking a bus, tram, or car (my father's Dacia in the 1970s) or passing on a message to the visitor.

M33 Teletyper

In the 1980s, the light flashed one Sunday. I opened the door and was surprised to see a M33 standing, awaiting its home. The man explained that every Deaf person received such a machine that was no longer used and was donated by some government agency.

My father helped him carry it into my bedroom, probably because there was some room for it and I was the most literate immigrant person in the family. We were thrilled that we could communicate with our fellows without going out of the door.

When M33 teletyper ringed, anyone of us signers could feel the loud vibration across from another room. We'd run to the teletyper to see who was the caller.

Teletyper M33 of the 1980s Deaf used
Image source: unknown (Internet)

It also turned out to be a little more than its purpose. We'd write a letter, tear off the paper, and mail it. We didn't realize it was some kind of an early form of multi-purpose "computer". We had it before everyone had a computer and even before my first classical Apple IIc.

TTY (Teletyper)

Not long afterward, a new TTY (teletyper) or TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) was released. The Deaf community preferred the term TTY that we used. The term TDD was a "politically correct" term.

Deaf people eventually tossed out their short-lived M33 machines and welcomed their new portable TTYs into their homes. The MRC (message relay center) was soon established to facilitate communicate between Deaf callers and hearing people.

The TTYs had evolved into more modern looks. TTYs had been installed in public locations, such as airports. When I landed in a layover city (usually Minnesota) on my way home from Galladuet University in Washington, D.C., I purposefully made a call to my parents on a public TTY, just for the sheer joy of using it.

TTY used by Deaf in the late 20th century
Source: Ultratec


The advent of pagers in the 1990s was another exciting convenience, though not as convenient as cellphones. Whenever one received a phone number on the pager, one had to go to the TTY to make a call.

Text-capable cellphones

Soon the pagers were gradually out of sight when texting-capable cellphones came in. Blackberry devices were among the first.

Web cams

The earliest form of videophone was using a webcam and computer to communicate with other ASL speakers before the advent of videophone. Unlike videophone, webcam was very slow and stuttering across the slow network.

Deaf chatting on webcam


Texting cellphones remain in use outside home. Videophone came in as a form of phone at home among the Deaf people in the United States and Canada in the early 21st century. VRS (Video Relay Service) soon replaced MRC.

Videophone-capable cellphones were used earlier in Europe. Soon, it came into the United States. Today, a growing number of Deaf people carry videophone-capable cellphones and talk on the videophone in public, sometimes signing with one hand (which may be a new evolution of ASL) or putting it on a surface nearby.

Multi-purpose devices

In no time, cellphones, smartphones, and tablets become cross-overed. One makes videphone calls or sends text messages via these on-the-go gadgets, using a telecommunication wireless service or Wifi.

Also see how Deaf people hear without ears? and how they hear doorbells and rings.