Braille Monitor                                                                    October 2006


Deaf-Blind Communication Devices

by Anne Taylor, Steven Booth, and Michael Tindell

From the Editor: Anne Taylor is director of access technology, and Steve Booth and Mike Tindell are access technology specialists at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC). The following review of new technology will be of interest to anyone interested in communication technology for deaf-blind people:

During the past few years several new communication solutions for deaf-blind users have come on the market. In the following pages Steven Booth describes FSTTY, a product from Freedom Scientific for communication over phone lines; Anne Taylor describes FaceToFace™, an application from Freedom Scientific for face-to-face communication; and Mike Tindell discusses a hardware package from Krown which can be used for both functions. Each device incorporates a Braille display so that deaf-blind people can communicate directly.

Some explanation of terminology will help as you read about these items. A TTY (teletypewriter) and a TDD (telephone device for the deaf) are really the same thing; that is, they communicate over telephone lines by the use of analog audio tones. A TTY modem converts digital electronic data produced by a computer to analog audio tones, which are then transmitted over a telephone line. At the receiving end another modem converts the analog audio signals back to digital data, which can be interpreted by another computer. The teletypewriter is a device that prints information received over telephone or telegraph lines. From the early 1900's to the digital age, TTY devices were used by news wire and stock services to transmit their data, and the same name was used for the early devices used by deaf people to transmit data over telephone lines. As computers and other electronic devices became available, the term "TDD" became more widely accepted.

Today the terms "TTY" and "TDD" are often used interchangeably to refer to any device that transmits and receives analog audio data and converts it into digital data for the deaf-blind. By combining this technology with portable computers and Braille displays, communication between two deaf-blind people or communication by a deaf-blind person with either deaf or hearing people becomes easier. Some commercial and some nonprofit organizations and many emergency information centers have electronic TDD equipment, making it possible for deaf and deaf-blind people to communicate directly with them. With this advanced technology deaf-blind people can communicate with anyone--deaf, hearing, or deaf-blind, as long as the recipient has a TDD.

Freedom Scientific's FSTTY

Steve Booth makes a call using FSTTY.

FSTTY, a deaf-blind telecommunications solution from Freedom Scientific consisting of a modem and software, is an accessory installed on a PAC Mate. A deaf-blind person uses the Braille display to review the text he or she enters and the text others send in reply.

FSTTY can be used to place calls to anyone with a TDD. On a PAC Mate QWERTY keyboard the deaf-blind person types in text and then reads the response on the Braille display. Anyone using a Braille keyboard must type uncontracted Braille unless the recipient also has a Braille display.

A handy feature of FSTTY permits the user to scroll backward and forward to review a call session, including any commands sent and the entire conversation. Mistakes can be corrected as one types, and the text will be corrected on both the sender's and recipient's displays. The sender has the option of saving the file with the complete conversation or editing the file before saving it, thereby keeping only the items worth saving. For example, if someone sends an email address or a favorite recipe, these can be saved for later review. No need to remember the information or spend time rewriting it to a file because text can be copied or cut and then pasted into another file on your PAC Mate. If the deaf-blind person is talking to another PAC Mate user with a Braille display, he or she can write and receive contracted (Grade II) Braille text. However, it is critical for the sender to remember that, if an emergency message is sent to someone like a 911 operator, as mentioned earlier, the message must be in uncontracted Braille for the person on the other end to read the message.

FSTTY supplies both an Intelli modem and FSTTY software to install on the PAC Mate. Help files are available to assist with set-up and using the software and modem. Context-sensitive help is available while using FSTTY, including a list of commands to place and hangup calls; to save files; and to copy, cut, and paste text.

This product is easy to use and provides good communication options for deaf-blind people. Additionally, people with some hearing can use the Pac Mate speech to assist when using FSTTY.

If you already have a PAC Mate, the price for FSTTY is $1,200, or you can purchase a PAC Mate with a 20- or 40-cell Braille display plus the FSTTY as a complete system. Contact Freedom Scientific or an authorized dealer for further details, a demonstration, and specific pricing information.

Freedom Scientific's FaceToFace™

Anne Taylor and John Paré communicate using FaceToFace.

Freedom Scientific designed its FaceToFace™ deaf-blind communication solution to be compatible with the PAC Mate. This system facilitates real-time conversation during personal, face-to-face interaction between two people when one is a blind or deaf-blind Braille user and the other is a sighted, blind, or deaf-blind Braille-user. The package has a Hewlett-Packard iPAQ Pocket PC2003 with a thumb keyboard, a Bluetooth CompactFlash card, a CD containing an owner's manual, FaceToFace software, the driver, and the FaceToFace applications for a desktop computer.

To communicate, the FaceToFace software must be installed on both the iPAQ Pocket PC and the PAC Mate; while the Bluetooth CompactFlash card driver and the driver for the thumb keyboard must be installed on the iPAQ. Once installations are complete, the FaceToFace application must be launched first on the iPAQ and then on the PAC Mate, in this sequence, in order to begin the communication process. When you use FaceToFace with an iPAQ, the iPAQ will automatically become the server, and the PAC Mate automatically becomes the client. If FaceToFace is used between two PAC Mates by two Braille readers, one of the PAC Mates must be assigned as a server and the other as a client. Typically a sighted person types on the thumb keyboard of the iPAQ, and the deaf-blind person Brailles or types on the PAC Mate keyboard. The keys on the thumb keyboard are quite small, however, so the sighted person may prefer to type using an accompanying stylus on the virtual keyboard, located on the iPAQ screen. The conversation content will appear in print on the iPAQ screen and in Braille on the PAC Mate Braille display. Either user can review the conversation at any time during the exchange. The content of the conversation can also be saved as a text file on both the PAC Mate and the iPAQ.
There are some additional functions. Either person in the conversation can paste content from other applications such as a word processor, appointment book, or contacts into the edit area and immediately transmit the data to the other person. Either person can remotely control some functions on the other unit, for example: restart the conversation, shut down FaceToFace, and monitor the battery status. Both parties can easily manage the conversation, and any editing of the contents or any change that is made by one person will appear on the other device immediately. The current price for the FaceToFace is $1,495.

Note: For those who do not use PAC Mate, FaceToFace applications will also work on personal laptop or desktop computers.

Freedom Scientific, Blind/Low Vision Group
11800 31st Court North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33716-1805
phone: (727) 803-8000; toll-free: (800) 444-4443;
fax: (727) 803-8001
email: <>
Web site: <>

Krown Manufacturing PortaView 20 Plus TTY

Mike Tindell Brailles a message with the PortaView 20 Plus TTY.

Krown Manufacturing, "a company that offers products and services for the hearing-impaired," built their TTY unit to be accessible to the deaf-blind for face-to-face communication, as well as a TDD for placing and receiving telephone calls to and from deaf or hearing people. The PortaView 20 Plus TTY includes a 4-row VTouch keyboard connected by cable to a 20-cell Braille display. When the user types on either keyboard, the text is displayed in print on the visual screen of the PortaView and in computer Braille on the VTouch keyboard.

The system comes in a case similar to a laptop case, and all components fit neatly for portability. The VTouch can be ordered with a Perkins-style Braille keyboard or a QWERTY keyboard. If a user chooses the QWERTY keyboard, the home row keys can serve as a Perkins-style keyboard. In this mode computer Braille must be used, unless the person receiving the message uses contracted Braille. On the visual display only ASCII text is displayed; so, for example, if you press dots 2, 5, and 6, a number four will appear and not a period; to type a period, the user must type dots 4 and 6.

The operating manual is easy to follow, with both print and Braille copies provided. An optional cell phone connector can be installed on the unit if requested when ordering. A tactile ringer consisting of two devices is provided. One device plugs into a telephone jack; the other device, a pager, can be worn on a belt and has a rechargeable battery pack. When the phone rings, the pager emits a beep and vibrates to alert the user of an incoming call. A flashing light on the PortaView lights when the phone is ringing as well. While the system can be used with AC or DC current, Krown recommends the unit stay connected to AC power when possible.

The PortaView has two modes for operating: TDD acoustic mode and direct-connect mode. Acoustic mode allows a user to place a telephone receiver on the cups of the unit, and the transmissions are sent and received by the microphone and speaker under the cups. If requested, an optional cell phone connector can be added to the unit. When it is in acoustic mode, a user can plug a PortaView TDD unit into the earphone jack of the cell phone with a supplied cable. The cell phone then serves as the phone line for transmission, which means the user can use the system on the go. According to the manufacturer, the PortaView's rechargeable battery will power both the PortaView and VTouch for eight hours of use.

The second mode is direct-connect mode, which allows a user to plug a phone line directly into the PortaView TDD and the other end into a standard telephone jack. When at home this is the recommended mode because the system is connecting directly to the phone line, so transmission is likely to be more reliable. The PortaView will perform face-to-face communication in either acoustic mode or direct connect mode.

Those who have some hearing should note that no audible signal is currently on the PortaView when the phone rings. Therefore the tactile ringer must be plugged into a separate phone jack from the PortaView, or a splitter must be used.

The unit can also be used as an answering machine. A deaf-blind person can call in from another TDD and read the messages stored in the system. Ninety-nine names and phone numbers can be stored for directory dialing. The price of the PortaView 20 Plus TTY is $5,995. (Note: The PortaView 20 Plus is sold only with the VTouch. It is not posted on the Krown Web site, which features the PortaView 20 Jr., a later model.)

Krown Manufacturing, Inc.
3408 Indale Rd, Fort Worth, Texas 76116
voice: (817) 738-2485; TTY: (817) 738-8993
fax: (817) 738-1970; email: <>
Web site: <>