RTT is another one of those acronyms used in the tech space, but this is one that is super important to know about. RTT is an extremely useful tool to help make mobile devices more accessible to people with disabilities.
Here is everything you need to know about RTT and how you can use it to help people who might be deaf or hard of hearing.
What Is RTT?
RTT stands for “Real-time Text,” and it essentially transmits the texts of typed messages to a recipient instantly. When you send a text, a recipient won’t receive your words and phrases until after it is typed up and you hit send. With RTT, the recipient sees every letter and punctuation as it is being typed out.
What is the purpose of this? It’s crucial for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to be able to see information in emergency situations. When they’re able to see letters and words in real-time, it’s basically like they’re making a phone call. So this lets them act fast and efficiently if there is ever an urgent matter at hand.
How Does RTT Work?
Before RTT technology existed, the FCC required that phone providers (like AT&T and Verizon) support TTY or Teletypewriter devices. These were initially made for landlines and allowed users to send typed messages across phone lines. But this tech became cumbersome and outdated as mobile phones started to take root.
RTT allows users to see and respond to messages in real-time, unlike TTY. Plus, you can send emojis and use multiple languages with RTT.
Some devices have this feature automatically enabled, but to use it on other devices, you might need to turn it on within your phone’s settings. Once you’re on a call, you can switch to RTT from voice or start an RTT call right away.
RTT works over the same networks as traditional calling and texting, and anyone with a ten-digit cell number can use it to contact one another or make emergency calls to 911. Just keep in mind that if you’re using RTT to contact someone who is on TTY, then your usage will be limited to TTY.
How To Set Up RTT on Your Device
RTT is not standard on iPhone and Android devices, so you need to turn it on manually in your phone’s settings. Here’s how to do it on your device:
First, make sure you have iOS 10 or later installed on your device, and you also need to be connected to a cellular network rather than Wifi.
Next, go to Settings and tap Accessibility, followed by RTT/TTY. Toggle the switch to turn on Software RTT/TTY. You’ll then tap Relay Number to put in a phone number for RTT relay calls. Be sure to turn on the Send Immediately toggle if you want characters to send immediately as you type them.
You also have the option to answer every call as RTT/TTY. If that’s your preference, turn on Answer All Calls as RTT/TTY. Keep in mind that this means you will no longer receive voice calls.
To make an RTT call on your iPhone, select a contact in your phone app and click RTT/TTY. Once the call connects, tap the RTT icon to start typing your messages. You’ll do the same if you receive a call from someone using RTT.
On Android or Google Phone
For most Android devices, you can turn on RTT by going to your Phone App Settings. From there, you can place a call with RTT or switch from voice to RTT during a call.
To make an RTT call, open the phone app and select who you want to call. Tap RTT. This will bring up a notification on the recipient device that you are trying to call them using RTT. After the other person answers, start entering messages in the text field to communicate with one another.
You can switch from voice to RTT during a call as well: Tap RTT during a voice call, and the conversation will automatically switch over.
There are several reasons why you might want to use RTT, especially over TTY. These benefits include:
- You don’t need specialized devices — these features work right on (most) smartphones without additional hardware. Plus, these features are free.
- Both parties can send and receive text in real-time, unlike TTY, which is essentially like sending text messages over a landline.
- You don’t need a second phone number to make RTT calls.
- RTT is a lot more reliable than TTY. There are fewer dropped calls, and it’s instantaneous as long as service on both ends is reliable.
- You can switch between RTT and voice calling at your leisure during the same call, whereas you’re limited to one or the other with TTY.
- RTT gives you more characters for typing, like sending special punctuation and emojis.
- RTT lets you call emergency services through 911 and relay services by dialing 711, TTY users, and other RTT users.
How Can RTT Improve?
While RTT is a major step up for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, it is not a perfect piece of technology. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has urged cell providers to bring on more features to make RTT even more accessible to the population.
RTT could be more intuitive by allowing users to control the color, size, and font of the messages. This can help address people with colorblindness, difficulty seeing the text because of visual impairment, or individuals with dyslexia who have trouble reading specific font types.
RTT also doesn’t currently use caller ID features, teleconferencing, interactive voice response systems, or call transfers. This can make it very difficult for users to bypass the automated voice systems that many services, like banks, require users to get through before they are able to converse with a representative.
Finally, many users would love for tech companies to start creating devices that have RTT readily available by default to make it easier for those with disabilities to get right into the action and easily use their devices.
RTT vs. Texting
It might not seem like RTT is much different than sending a normal text message. While there are major similarities between the two, the major difference is that with RTT, you can see what the user is typing in real time, hence the name of the software. With texting, you only see a message after it has been completely typed up and sent over.
This is a significant feature for users who are deaf or hard of hearing to closely mimic the flow of a natural conversation rather than the asynchronous usage of a text message. It’s also important for emergency situations when a user might not have time to wait for a dispatcher to completely type out a thought and vice versa.
Limitations of RTT
The major limitations of RTT are related to the devices themselves. In most cases, you probably won’t be able to use this feature with someone who has a phone on an older wireless network, like 3G and earlier. Additionally, if someone is using a TTY device, like a landline, you won’t be able to use RTT.
Also, if you make a 911 call, it’s possible for dispatchers to answer using a TTY device rather than an RTT device. Certain characters might not be registered properly on either your end or the dispatcher’s end.
RTT calling makes it more accessible for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing to be able to have fluid conversations with ease. Users can type messages with each character being sent to the recipient in real-time.
You can turn on RTT on both iPhone and Android devices by going to your device settings. It differs from sending a text because your messages can be sent as they are typed rather than just after being typed. On most devices, you can toggle between voice calls and RTT at your own pace.
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Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) | University of Washington
TTY - Glossary | HealthCare.gov
Real-Time Text: Improving Accessible Telecommunications | Federal Communications Commission