University of Maryland


Telecom RERC Real-Time Text Effort Culminates in FCC Adoption

December 20th, 2016

On December 15, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) amended its rules to allow phone companies to replace support for TTY with support for real-time text (RTT). This caps a 15 year effort led by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telecommunications Access at the Trace Center and Gallaudet University. Adoption of RTT will make communication easier and more conversation-friendly for people who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing, or who have speech disabilities.

Real-time text is changing text communication, allowing people to mix voice and text in the same VoIP call. With standard text-messaging, the user types the message, then must hit send for the message to be delivered to the recipient. RTT allows characters to be sent as they are created, without hitting send. It also allows text to be sent as part of regular voice calls. This means text can be viewed while listening to a voice call – allowing key words to be typed and also the use of captions on phone calls.

According to the FCC: “As the nation’s communications networks migrate to IP-based environments, real-time technology will allow Americans with disabilities to use the same communications devices as their friends, relatives, and colleagues, and more seamlessly integrate into tomorrow’s communication networks.”

“Development of real-time text was a major effort starting in 1999 for the Trace Center, partners at Gallaudet University’s Technology Access Program, and industry partner Omnitor AB, a Swedish company that developed much of the technology behind RTT,” said Trace Center Director Gregg Vanderheiden. From the beginning the partners engaged with consumer advocates, policy-makers, and both assistive technology and mainstream industry representatives to refine the ideas and formulate contributions to numerous international industry standards and government policy efforts, including that of the FCC.

Vanderheiden also gives credit to the sustained support for this work provided through the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) program of the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), part of the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services. The Trace Center, at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, is currently leading the RERC on Universal Interface and Information Technology.