I was appointed to serve Christ UMC of the Deaf in Baltimore in 1988. This was two years before the Americans with Disabilities Act became U.S. law. Prior to the ADA law telecommunication for Deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans was difficult. One of the most important parts of the law was equal access to communication.
Deaf people have long had telephone devices that they used to type words into the phone, with the cradle of one of those old fashioned phones laying at the top of the device. Through the wonders of technology back then two people with TTY’s (“teletype” as they were called) could communicate with English words back and forth using this device. However not everyone had a TTY or a phone line and Deaf people could not talk to just anyone, like hearing people can. That is where I got a lot of requests for “favors” from my members. I had a TTY, of course and this is how it went:
“Please call my dentist. I have to be seen as soon as possible.” So I would call the dentist and say “Hello, I am calling for Jane Doe and she is Deaf and needs to be seen soon.” The dentist’s secretary would give me a date and time the next day. I would call the Deaf person back and they would say “I can’t wait that long. Please, I must be seen today.” I would call back and negotiate a better time and it went on and on. About 25 minutes and four phone calls later the Deaf person had a dental appointment.
In 1990 when the ADA bill was signed into law a relay system was devised so that a Deaf person wanting to talk to a hearing person who did not have a TTY could call a special number, and a hearing operator with access to two phone lines would type for the Deaf person and speak for the hearing person. A process that used to take 25 minutes now took two minutes.