Carl P.Roberts TTY
Via telephone system Deaf communicate with state legislators By JIM DAVIS Harte-Hanks Austin Bureau AUSTIN — It's hard enough for average citizens to make their voices heard in government, but the deaf face a special handicap in this field. Things have been made easier for the deaf in the Texas Legislature this year, however. Thanks to a special TTY unit installed in the office of House Speaker Bill Clayton, deaf Texans have at least a chance to communicate via the telephone with state government. And the system is a first among the 50 state governments. THE TTY unit is an old Western Union teletype machine with an adapter that translates special signals received over regular telephone lines into printed words. A deaf person who wants to ask a Question of or make a comment to his legislator or anyone else in the Legislature can sit down at another TTY machine with an adapter and call up Clayton's office. The call is taken by Kathy Spain, Clayton's health and welfare specialist, who either handles it directly or sends the message on to a legislator or other official. Each machine has a keyboard so the caller and Spain can type out messages back and forth until everything is clear. The legislator can use the machine to reply to the original message. CARL P. Roberts, executive director of the Texas Commission for the Deaf, said the system is another step — and an important important one — in efforts to get TTY systems set up in various segments of government. Deaf organizations, for example, are pushing for installation in city government in such places as police and fire stations. A recent check of the TTY logbook shows many of the calls come from activists in deaf organizations. These contacts usually involve some form of lobbying effort such as urging financing for aid-to-deaf projects. But there are also calls from persons who have personal problems or questions that need attention. attention. One caller recently wanted to know about some benefits he felt he had coming. THE AVERAGE use of the House TTY is about two or three calls a day, so obviously obviously only a tiny minority of the 110,000 legally deaf persons in Texas take advantage advantage of it. One problem, of course, is that a deaf person must have access to a TTY unit in order to call the Capitol. Roberts said the number of these units is growing constantly. Currently there are about 200 in Houston and 85 in Austin. Some are in residences and others in central locations serving the deaf. The used teletypes are made available through a telephone company program. There is no charge except for repairs. The adapters are sold for about $200. Spain said tho one in the speaker's office cost $180 and except for her time, which is in addition to her other duties, that is the only cost to the state. The phone line was already there and can be used by people talking to regular phones. The new service will continue through the present legislative session. When the final gavel falls in the legislature at the end of May, an evaluation of the program will be made and Clayton will decide whether to make it a permanent part of his office. Telephone number for the unit is Area- Code 512, 4753498. 4753498. The caller has to pay for any long distance charges.