TTY Use & “Helpful Hints”

Posted on August 13, 2021

County of Marin
Disability Access Program
Accessibility Guidance Bulletin #6a

TTY USE & “Helpful Hints”


TTYs are communication devices that do not rely on voice or hearing, but have keyboards (just like a computer keyboard) and visual displays for text-based conversations. While TTYs are used primarily by deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened or deaf-blind individuals, some individuals with disabilities that affect their ability to speak clearly also use TTYs.


TTY users who are deaf may have a broad range of English skills. For many deaf individuals, English is their second language. As for anyone for whom English is a second language, he or she may use what seem to be awkward phrases, misspell words (though anyone is capable of a “typo”), or communicate thoughts and ideas without using Standard English grammar, syntax, or sentence structure. Take care to be respectful and try to use language that the caller will be able to understand, depending on his or her familiarity with English. Just as translating from French to Spanish presents unique challenges, American Sign Language (“ASL,” visual) and English (print, spoken) are not the same languages.


Here are some basic rules of “etiquette” for TTY communication stated briefly. Following is a more complete explanation of each.

  • Greet a TTY caller the same as you would a voice caller, being sure to include your name
  • Take turns and do not interrupt the other person (unless there is an emergency).
  • If you are interrupted by a customer or co-worker during your TTY conversation, type “pls hd” which means “please hold.”

When providing a lot of information, take breaks, allowing the caller to ask questions or comment.

  • Use abbreviations that can be clearly understood in the context of the conversation and use common TTY abbreviations (see last page).
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  • Don’t worry about spelling errors if your meaning is clear within the context.
  • Don’t worry about grammatical punctuation (such as upper/lower case, periods comma- simply put a few spaces in between sentences
  • Spell out numbers.
  • Inflections. Insert words such as “smile” or “grin” or “sigh” to indicate attitude.
  • When you’ve reached an ending point for the entire conversation, you may type “GA to SK” [“Go Ahead, (I am ready) to Stop Keying”] to indicate to the other person you are finished and ready to end the conversation.
  • Use abbreviations that can be clearly understood in the context of the conversation and commonly used TTY abbreviations. (See TTY Abbreviations section on the last page of this information bulletin.
  • It is considered polite to end a TTY conversation with “goodbye” or “so long” or “thanks again” before signing off with “SK”.
  • Add information about indicating emotion … smile … grin … sigh … etc.
  • When ending your conversation, type “SKSK.”


Greet a TTY caller the same as you would a voice caller; be sure and include your name. Answer the call with the same information you would a voice call-For example, “Marin County Library, this is (your name), how may I help you?”…or whatever your office typically uses. Sometimes when people are uncomfortable with using TTYs and/or their typing may take longer, they will modify and/or abbreviate their usual greeting.

Take turns and do not interrupt the other person (unless there is an emergency). Always let the other person complete what he or she would like to say, after which “GA” (which means “Go Ahead”) will appear on the TTY display. To start typing or to interrupt before the person has typed “GA” is considered rude or disrespectful. When you see “GA,” it is your turn to type. Remember to type “GA” when you’re finished, so the other person knows to respond. This is similar to “over” when communicating by radio; it’s a cue that it’s the other person’s turn.

If you are interrupted by a customer or co-worker during your TTY conversation, type “pls hd” which means, “please hold.”

While on a standard voice telephone call, the caller may hear the interruption taking place and your response to that interruption, or you might quickly say “just a minute.”

In hearing culture, this is acceptable etiquette. Via TTY, there is no way for the TTY user to know what’s going on without you giving a cue. Don’t just stop typing when interrupted, leaving the TTY caller wondering where you are. Type “Pls Hd” or “Please Hold” to let the other person know you need to take a break from the conversation. If you like, you may even type, “Pls Hd … Someone in our office needs help.” When you’ve completed the other business, simply resume typing since it is still your turn in the conversation. You may prefer to tell the person who wants to interrupt that you are on a TTY call, and ask him/her to please wait until the call is finished. If you are interrupted while the caller is typing, hopefully you have a printer on the TTY and you may “catch up” on what was typed during the interruption.

When providing a lot of information, take breaks; allow the caller to ask questions or comment. Turn-taking is an important part of TTY calls. It can be frustrating in any conversation if one person goes on and on. In hearing culture, it is acceptable to jump in and express your question or ask for clarification. Since one of the rules of TTY etiquette is to avoid interrupting, it is good practice to be brief and clear; breaking up information you are providing and allow for questions or comments by the caller along the way.

Don’t worry about spelling errors if your meaning is clear within the context of the conversation. If your meaning is clear, e.g., typing “new yirk” rather than “new york,” don’t worry about making any correction. If you are relaying important detailed information (name, address, telephone number, etc.), then simply type “xx” then restart the word or phrase. Particularly for individuals who have visual disabilities in addition to being Deaf or speech-impaired, it can be difficult to “track” with the visual display. It is much simpler for you and easier for the other person to track if you continue typing, indicating an error with “xx” then restarting the word or phrase, etc.

Don’t worry about punctuation. It is acceptable in TTY conversations to omit upper/lower case letters and to skip many types of punctuation. In part this is due to simple economy, ESL issues, and developed/accepted practices. If your TTY has a printout, you will notice that there is no upper/lower case within each person’s part of the conversation. One person’s text is in all lower case, and the other person’s text is in all upper case. This makes it easier to follow the conversation on the resultant “tape.”

Spell out numbers. Depending upon the TTY you are using, it may have a keyboard that has separate keys for numbers, or you may need to use the “Shift” key to type numbers. Regardless, numbers can be difficult to read so many individuals prefer that you spell out numbers to ensure no misunderstandings. If you do choose to use numbers, follow up by spelling them out, for confirmation.

Inflections. With text-based communication, it can be difficult to indicate inflection or emotion, just as in e-mail messages. (How many of us have felt uncertain about an e-mailer’s intent — terse, rude, serious or teasing us?) Via voice telephone conversations, you can “hear” a smile or laugh. Common in TTY conversations are typing expressions such as “smile” “ha” “grin” or “sigh.” Using these expressions, separated in the text by several spaces, allow you to personalize your conversation, provide cues about intent behind words, and help the other person feel more comfortable.

When you’ve reached an ending point for the conversation, you may type “GA to SK” which indicates “you may Go Ahead, I’m ready to Stop Keying (have nothing more to ask/say). At this point, the individual may say “Thanks for your help. Have a good day. SKSK” You may type, “Thank you. You too have a good day. SKSK” If the person has another question, the conversation will continue. You’ll need to “play it by ear,” just as you would a voice caller.

Depending on the caller, you may go back and forth a few times before you both finally type SKSK. This is an aspect of Deaf culture that needs to be recognized. Deaf callers are usually quite aware and respectful of hearing culture and they know offices can be busy places; in other words, often, they will modify their own TTY conversational practices to try to fit in with hearing culture/business world communication.

Lastly, relax and don’t worry about making mistakes or not doing everything exactly perfect. Every individual who uses a TTY has different skills and has a lot of experience communicating with hearing folks who are unaccustomed to using TTYs. As you would with anyone who contacts your office, do your best, to be respectful and patient, and your TTY conversations will be effective.


As noted above, deaf and fully blind users of TTYs use a Braille display version of a TTY called “TeleBraille.” A TeleBraille unit works just like a TTY, has a keyboard for input, but uses a Braille display for output (incoming information.) These conversations necessarily take more time because the person cannot simply read a visual display, but must “read” a Braille display on the device. For many TeleBraille users, reading Braille takes notably more time than for others to read a visual display.

  • Type slower so the person can more easily keep up. If you’re already a slow typist, this may not be an issue. (Smile)
  • You will need to wait for a TeleBraille user’s response … be patient. Because the caller is using a Braille display, it will take him/her longer to read your part of the conversation — some individuals longer than others, dependent upon their Braille skills. You will notice “delays” in the caller responding to you. Simply wait; do not interrupt (which will be confusing) or type “are you there qq” or anything.
  • Keep in mind the same TTY rules of etiquette for TeleBraille calls.
  • Because the call will take more time and using Braille takes more energy (and there’s no print out which can later be referred to), using abbreviations, taking turns, and providing information with breaks to allow for questions and comments are even more important.


If your department has a TTY, you should display a TTY number next to any voice telephone numbers in printed materials such as program brochures, event flyers, department reports, etc. The availability of TTY numbers can be identified by using “TTY” after the telephone number, and/or with this symbol:

tty symbol

Note: Positive and negative tiff files of this and other disability access symbols are available for copying or downloading via a link to:

You should also familiarize members of your staff with the operation of the TTY. Read the instruction booklet and try a few “test” calls to another County office to ensure that you know how it works.

If you telephone a person who uses a TTY, let the phone ring longer than usual. You can call the person directly by TTY or use the Telecommunications Relay Service (711).


When telecommunications for deaf people started in the mid-1960s, obsolete teletype-writers were used to communicate through couplers and telephones. These first TeleTYpewriters were 200 to 300 pounds each, noisy and large. They were some- times called clunkers, monsters, or mailboxes, but they were all called Teletype-writers–much the same way we use Xerox for copying machines or Kleenex for tissue. There-fore, the acronym was TTY, and this terminology became popular among TTY users.

In the 1970s, smaller models weighing less than five pounds came out. To distinguish between the clunkers and the lightweight models, a new terminology was created: Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD).

As time went by, this second acronym became more of a problem than a solution. One does not have to be deaf to use a “TDD.” These devices make it possible for deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled and hearing people to communicate with each other by telephone. To add to the confusion, teletypewriters were considered telecommunications devices for the deaf, too. In Europe, text telephone is the common name for all of these devices. It does not indicate the user, simply that printed words are transmitted through telecommunications –telephone lines, or airwaves. In an attempt to achieve international consistency and remove the “labeling,” the Federal Communications Commission decided to use the term “text telephone” and the acronym “TT.”

Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc., a not-for-profit organization of consumers active since 1968, conducted a poll on consumer preference for an acronym for text telephones. TTY was selected overwhelmingly.

The reasons most often cited were:

  • Signed, TTY is rhythmic to the eye, and it’s easy for hearing people to say.
  • “TTY” reminds users of the history of adaptive telecommunications, and recognizes historic contributions by the teletypewriter coupler’s deaf inventors to deaf history and culture.
  • Finally, in sign language, “TT” is embarrassingly similar to the common sign for “toilet;” spoken, “TT” has similar connotations.


Use abbreviations that can be clearly understood in the context of the conversation and commonly used TTY abbreviations.

ABT About
ASL American Sign Language
BTW by the way
CD could
CUZ Because
GA go ahead (signals turn-taking)
HMM… (signals pause … while thinking)
HOH Hard-of-Hearing
LTR later
LV leave
MSG message
MTG meeting
NBR number
PLS HD please hold
PLS please
QQ ?
R Rare
SKSK stop keying, goodbye
THRU through
TMW tomorrow
U you
UR you are, your, you’re
WD or WLD would
XXX erasing a typing error

For additional information, please contact:
County of Marin
Disability Access Program
Marin Civic Center, Room 304
San Rafael, CA 94913
(415) 473-4381 (Voice/CRS dial 711)
(415) 473-3799 FAX

Great thanks to the City and County of San Francisco, Mayor’s Office on Disability for providing text for this Guidance Bulletin.
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