A Phone of Our Own
The Deaf Insurrection Against Ma Bell
Publication Year: 2000
Published by: Gallaudet University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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In the late 1960s, the deaf community made a historical breakthrough in the world of telecommunications with the introduction of teletypewriters (TTYs) with acoustic couplers. This technology helped us gain access to the regular telephone network some ninety years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the voice telephone. Despite the ...
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I am deeply grateful to Dr. James C. Marsters, one of the three original deaf partners in the Applied Communications Corporation, who provided boxes of historical materials and generous financial support for my research for this book. It was Jim, a true Renaissance man, who had the vision to integrate the different talents of the three original ...
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For nearly a century after the advent of the voice telephone, we deaf people were without a phone of our own. We had to carefully plan visits, vacations, and business transactions. Conducting even basic daily exchanges was a difficult chore. A last-minute change in plans for a meeting, for example, presented special problems. Hearing ...
1. A Chance Encounter
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On April 11, 1963, deaf physicist Robert Haig Weitbrecht turned forty-three years old. He was living in the hills west of Redwood City, California, in a new two-bedroom duplex on Woodside Road. Weitbrecht had converted a bedroom into a radio "ham shack," and his living room was strewn with radio equipment, electrical meters, boxes ...
2. Up the Mountainside
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After numerous conversations with Marsters and Saks, Weitbrecht evaluated the general obstacles he faced in developing a telephone device that deaf people could use - one based on visual communication. He believed that an acoustic coupler used with the TTY was probably the best idea to pursue, but first he had to review other ...
3. Something Old, Something New
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The marriage of the older TTY to the new acoustic coupler was the crux of Weitbrecht's design for a visual telephone device. He planned to develop a coupler that would produce a different audio signal as each key on the teletypewriter was pressed. Typing a single letter on the keyboard would "modulate" the signal to be transmitted by adding ...
4. The Corporate Windmill
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AT&T was not likely to be enthusiastic about the telephone for deaf people proposed by Weitbrecht, Marsters, and Saks. Despite Weitbrecht's efforts to develop an acoustic coupler that would not conflict with AT&T's rules, the phone company remained concerned about "foreign attachments" (non-Bell equipment) introducing interference ...
5. The Frustration Grows
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The Robert H. Weitbrecht Company partners were not alone in their disappointment with the telephone companies, of which there were about two thousand in the mid-1960s. Not all were part of the nationwide Bell Telephone System, but none made any effort to help profoundly deaf people access telecommunications. The TTY ...
6. Teletypewriters for the Deaf, Inc.
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With the Carterfone case finally settled, Marsters recommended that a separate organization be established to locate, recondition, and distribute AT&T's surplus TTYs. On February 20, 1968, AT&T released the first batch-200 TTYs-making distribution an immediate priority. George W. Fellendorf and Joseph Wiedenmayer of the A. G. ...
7. Change Agents
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During the early years of their collaboration, the APCOM partners had remarkable stamina despite pressure from many directions. Marsters and Saks were living fulfilling personal lives with a wide circle of friends and involvement in a variety of community and social affairs. James and Alice Marsters were raising three children; Andrew and ...
8. The Modem War
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In October 1970, ESSCO Communications began marketing the ATC-2, a second modem for the TTY network. The following month, The Silent News, a national newspaper for the American deaf community, brazenly announced, "N.J. Firm Patents TTY Terminal Unit; Costs $100 less than Rival." The Modem War had begun. ...
9. Foreign Affairs
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Weitbrecht, Marsters, and Saks envisioned a time when telephone access for deaf people would be worldwide. Marsters had taken the first steps when he had introduced the modem and TTY to England and continental Europe on a tour with his family in 1966. By the early 1970s, more efforts were underway, and they highlighted many of the ...
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The first decade of TTY development was marked by incremental progress against great odds. By 1973, only a few thousand TTYs were in use for the estimated 13 million Americans with hearing loss. Many deaf people were still unaccustomed to using the telephone almost a decade after the development of the Phonetype modem. People ...
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On May 13, 1975, Weitbrecht was delighted to participate in the first authorized transatlantic TTY call using the modem he had developed. Finally, nearly two decades after the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid and more than a decade after the Phonetype for deaf people was developed, the FCC had granted AT&T temporary ...
12. Changing of the Guard
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The early months of 1979 were plagued with personal crises for Weitbrecht. He mailed more letters to the University of California complaining about his earlier employment experiences there. He wrote to Marsters his neighbors were complaining about the ham antenna on his property because it interfered with local radio reception. The ...
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Three of the four goals established by Marsters, Weitbrecht, and Saks had been met by the time Weitbrecht died in 1983. Mass marketing of compact telecommunications devices provided availability, portability, and affordability. The APCOM partners had also left the deaf community a legacy of self-advocacy, embodied by their example, the ...
APPENDIX: A Concise History of the TTY
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Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 112 photographs
Publication Year: 2000