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AdminNov 7, 2023 3:30:25 PM4 min read

The Evolution of (Accessible) Mobile Phones and Texting


Do you know what the first innovative technology was? How about the first communication system? (Answers follow the article!).

The Evolution of Mobile Phones

For a long time, the deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind communities had to rely on family members or friends to make the phone calls for them. There were other not-great options like snail mail or even driving distances to deliver a message to someone when they didn’t event know if the person was home! TTYs made things easier, but then cell phones arrived on the scene. 

Martin Cooper, an American engineer known as the “father of cell phones,” envisioned a phone people could use away from their homes and cars. It was the early 1970s, and the phones were huge, and entirely audio-based. (Remember the clunky, “brick” cell phones hooked up in cars?) Whether in a vehicle or lugged around on it’s own, these early cell phones were very expensive, so most people still relied on landlines or payphones. As prices dropped in the mid to late 1990s, more and more people discovered the freedom of mobile communication. 

The Rise of the Text Movement

It would be more than 10 years before the word “text” would expand from its exclusively noun form to its much more popular verb form. The whole idea of “texting” was conceptualized in the early 1980s by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert in a cooperation known as the Franco-German (GSM). Throughout the 1990s, phones used the letter equivalents on number keys to create “texts.” Pressing (4), (3), (5), (5), (6) on a standard phone keypad, for example, would produce “hello,” which could be sent as a word. 

These innovations, buoyed by the rising interest and demands for a more liberating experience, led to even more innovative technology. 2-way texting was widely adopted by the deaf and hard of hearing communities, offered under the brands RadioMail and WyndTell. These 2-way “pagers,” offered communication in two directions often for the first time by users in the community. Some even enabled the ability to send a text message to a TTY!

In the midst of these telecommunications transformations and innovations, landline TTYs became mobile like cell phones. But, technology was moving so quickly that oversized cell phones, mobile TTY devices, and then WyndTell pagers, were replaced by the popular T-Mobile Sidekick, and other mobile options that connected to new and growing “3G,” networks which promised even more for everyone who connected to them.

Wireless today is commonplace, with video communication and more over advanced networks happening millions of times every hour. T-Mobile’s more than 30-year commitment to accessibility has helped it introduce products and services that meet a variety of communication needs. In fact, in 2022, T-Mobile received a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) award from the respected advocacy group, Disability:IN, for its position as one of best places to work for people with disabilities! This passion for accessibility extends to accessible products, accessible customer care, and a large and well-established accessibility team comprised of deaf, hard of hearing, deafdisabled, deafblind, neurodivergent, and speech-disabled employees! 

The innovation in communication technology has been lightning-fast, and while some of the innovative benefits have taken time to reach the accessibility community, companies like T-Mobile have worked to extend these benefits as a part of their tireless commitment to these communities. Who knows where this all might lead in the future? I, for one, can’t wait!

Answer to the trivia questions above: 

  1. The first technology invented was the stone tools. 
  2. During the Paleolithic age, dated back 30,000 BC – cave paintings.

References: (2014).  Harry Lang: Researcher.  Retrieved February 1, 2016.

Lang, H., (1999). The Harry G. Lang Collection on Early TTY History, 1947-1999.  Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives, Manuscripts, MSS201.  Retrieved January 18, 2016.

Lang, H., (2000).  A phone of our own: The deaf insurrection against ma bell. Gallaudet University Press, Washington.  Retrieved January 18, 2016.

Lore of whose Listening (2012).  History of TTY that deaf people use to communicate. Retrieved January 11, 2016.

The Center for an Accessible Society (2000).  The Americans with Disabilities Act.  Retrieved February 1, 2016.

Technology Timeline – Ultratec. Retrieved February 28, 2023.

Text Telephone Devices (TTY or TDD) – NC Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of hearing. Retrieved February 28, 2023.

The Evolution of Texting, Class Blog – The Ohio State University. Retrieved February 28, 2023.

The Past, Present and Future of Messaging – Forbes. Retrieved February 23, 2023.

Smartphone History and Evolution. Retrieved February 22, 2023.