Technology and opportunities for TTY users have changed a great deal over the past 30 years! Throughout this time, Ultratec has led the way — inventing new technology to help people communicate with over the phone.
In 1978, Robert Engelke, the founder of Ultratec, was an electrical engineer designing devices to help people with communication disorders. Through his friend Herb Pickell, a prominent member of the Wisconsin deaf community at the time, Engelke became interested in improving text communications for individuals who are deaf.
In the 1970s, TTYs cost between $650 and $1000, making them a luxury item that very few could afford. Working out of the basement of his home, Engelke started Ultratec to develop a low-cost TTY that people could use more easily. The company's first TTY was the V.I.P. Communicator, a TTY the size of a pocket calculator.
Engelke went to his first National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Convention in 1978, meeting with people to ask questions and test ideas. He asked TTY users to evaluate his work, and made changes based on their comments (a process that continues at Ultratec today). Impressed by Ultratec's commitment to improving TTYs, other people active in the deaf community became part of the Ultratec team. In 1980, Ultratec introduced the Superphone - a TTY that for the first time included memory capabilities and ASCII. Best of all, it cost under $500, which was a low price at the time.
Recognizing that TTYs were a necessity, not a luxury, Ultratec changed the entire market in 1981 by introducing the Minicom TTY for under $200. For the first time ever, families could afford more than one TTY, allowing them to communicate with sons and daughters away from home or friends and relatives in different cities. The low-priced Minicom tremendously broadened the opportunities for people to communicate with TTYs. Through a grassroots effort, people who were deaf began selling Ultratec TTYs to their friends and families. Thanks to their efforts, the number of households with TTYs grew immediately. Many of these early TTY advocates, such as Bob Harris , Dot & Steve Brenner, Robert Weitbrecht, Betty & Chuck Segler, and many others, established businesses selling TTYs.
Ultratec has always involved people who are deaf in its TTY development to be truly responsive to what people need. People wanted portability, so Ultratec responded by designing the Compact/C. People needed pay phone access, so Ultratec developed the Public TTY. People wanted professional options, so Ultratec developed the Superprint 4425 and deluxe Superprint Pro80 series. Plus, Ultratec released a line of supporting products, including Simplicity signalers, TTY detectors, and the CyrstalTone loud phone ringer. By listening to what users need to be successful, Ultratec has improved communication for everyone.
Building on its expertise in text telecommunications, Ultratec developed the CapTel Captioned Telephone, which gives telephone users the benefit of text captions throughout their conversations. Now people with varying degrees of hearing loss can continue enjoying the telephone without missing a beat.
Today, TTYs are available to people throughout the world. Ultratec is recognized as the world’s largest manufacturer of text telecommunications equipment. The company continues to be involved in the deaf and hard of hearing communities at the state and national level. Several of the people who work at Ultratec are deaf or hard of hearing, or have family members who are deaf.
Just wait until you see what Ultratec does next….