Press 9 for TDD

by Colin Berkshire

Complying with the Americans with disabilities Act (ADA) means providing reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities. This includes supporting TDD terminals (Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf.)

I am utterly surprised that every company doesn’t support TDDs. It’s super simple to do.

You have probably heard “Para la prensa española 2” (For spanish press 2.) This branches you into a menu tree in spanish and eventually to spanish speaking agents.

It’s equally simple to support TDD terminals.

You see, TDD terminals are an ancient device. When you press a key the character is transmitted audibly, just like a touch-tone. There is no handshaking, no modem synchronization, no computer anything. It’s just a tone just like touch-tones.

So you can include in your initial menu “Dial 9 for TDD”. Callers will hear a warbling tone that they just ignore. If hearing this tone bothers you you can precede it in English with “TDD users press 9.”

Then, you record the IVR messages precisely the same as any other audio recording, except that you type them on the TDD terminal instead of speaking them. Early on, instruct users to make menu choices using their telephone dial, not the TDD. This is because TDD users are generally used to responding using their TDD but they will really need to use their touch-tone dial.

If you have a multi-lingual IVR (that formally supports multiple languages) then you just record all of the prompts using your TDD terminal.

Is this new technology? Hardly. Way back in 1988 (2727 years ago) I was involved with a school that used an IVR system that allowed students to register for courses to support TDD. Students could interactively register for classes and review their classes using TDD terminals in this way. The university didn’t need to build a special system just for the few deaf students that attended.

One tip: Put your typed message into memory and then play the memory back when you make the IVR recording. That way the letters will be displayed to the caller as quickly as possible and not at typing speed.

The only thing you need to buy is a TDD terminal, and they can be had starting at about $200 (See You use this same terminal for making your audio recordings and for assisting customers.

Supporting your deaf users is trivially simple. Why not do it?