It is rare in a lifetime to realize, in real time and in the moment, that a meme is not only fading away, but is withering on the dying vine of communication.  The TDD/TTY — Telecommunication Device for the Deaf/Teletypewriter — dies a little more each day in the Deaf Community.


A TDD is a rudimentary computer — a fancy modem in a big, plastic, housing with a bad display — you hook up to a regular telephone to communicate in Baudot text with another TDD.  When you are done typing, you key in “GA” and that means “Go Ahead” and you type that each time you’re done talking so the other side knows it is their turn to “speak” on the TDD. 

When the text conversation is finished, you type “GA or SK” which means “Go Ahead or Stop Keying.” 

“Stop Keying” means you are finished with the conversation and want to hang up but, to be polite, you aren’t hanging up quite yet and you’re leaving the option open to the other party to continue the conversation or to end the talk with an “SKSK” response — “Stop Keying, Stop Keying” — and if you get that response to “GA or SK” then you would finally respond with “SKSK” indicating you agree the conversation is over and that you will both disconnect.

That’s sort of a hoary way to communicate because you’re using internal communication dyads that are based on politeness and convenience rather than rigid assumptions.  Some people don’t type “GA” so you don’t know if they’re done speaking or not and sometimes “SKSK” never makes it into the conversation because one side just hangs up. 

TDD communication is sloppy and unkind — but, for two decades, GA or SK were the vital Deaf memes that enabled one to carry on a long distance conversation.

Today, GA and SK are as foreign to young Deaf kids as going over to a person’s house unannounced to chat was to their parents because that was the only way the Deaf could communicate in a non-electrical age.

Kids set the trends that ultimately determine the standard and in the Deaf Community, the new standard for communication is the cellphone and SMS — no GA or SKSK necessary.  A few years ago, pagers were the rage, then Sidekicks — but they have both been replaced by iPhones and Blackberrys on the road and Video Phones at home. 

With the assumption of Cochlear Implants, the young Deaf are trying their best to self-mainstream and join the “Hearing World” — as unwitting, perpetual, junior members-in-waiting — and to meet that hopeful end, some use their voices on the cellphone while others just use data to surf the web and to send SMS messages and check email.

The tricksy thing about the TDD is not just that you had to have a TDD, but so too, did the person on the other end of the phone.

Modern technology is equipment agnostic.  Email doesn’t care how you access it.  SMS doesn’t care if you’re on the loathsome AT&T or the elite Verizon.  The web doesn’t care if you’re using a Nokia or a Blackberry.

Technology — once the great punisher of the Deaf — has now become the Deaf Community’s “Great Equalizer” for standardized, non-prejudicial, equal access to common comms — and we’ll all join the second line in the parade to the graves of GA to SKSK. 

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

10 Comments

  1. Gordon Davidescu February 2, 2010 at 9:43 am

    I wonder if this article will propel people into using the GA and the SKSK in their everyday internet parlance. The Internet is full of nostalgia for things of yesteryear. I suppose it’s just about finding new context for old things.
    SKSK:)

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    1. I found this article BECAUSE I use SKSK in my vocabulary. I’ve never been deaf… I just enjoyed punching in a number that turned payphones into typewriters. Back in the 90s, this used to really mess with the heads of people at the airport.

      One correction: both sides absolutely did NOT have to use a TDD device. The whole advantage to using them when NOT deaf was the ability to not only make free payphone calls, but to do so anonymously with a live operator reading your message to the recipient.

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      1. I don’t understand why you would use a TDD to “mess with the heads of people” to make your point here. If you aren’t Deaf, or if you aren’t trying to talk to a Deaf person, you have no reason to use a TDD unless, of course, you’re just being a jerk or you’re so cheap you have to try to game a communication system for the disabled to save a dime.

        Your correction is incorrect. Both sides ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE A TDD device. How do you think the TDD operator was “reading” your TDD messages to the recipient?

        Do you also steal white canes from the blind and use them as pool cues?

        What about wheelchairs? Do you fake paralyzation so you can get a “free ride” at the airport as someone pushes you from gate to gate?

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  2. Well, not using GA or SKSK saves time and space. An SMS conversation inherently uses those two ideas without having to explicitly invoke them.

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  3. Kathakali Chatterjee February 2, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I was not aware of this TDD and GA/ SKSK phenomenon, thanks for the education!
    You are right about using text message David…my landlady is non-hearing but her speech is not affected…so when she wants to communicate something she usually calls and tells me, I text my reply back to her…saves time!

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  4. That’s very neat! Sort of like “Captioned Telephone” — or CapTel:
    http://www.captel.com/
    http://www.nyrelay.com/whatiscaptel.htm

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  5. […] Deaf people have been dying for iChat video on their iPhones ever since the first iPhone was announced and now, it appears, AT&T are not interested in letting the Deaf fully use data in that way without paying outrageous overage prices. […]

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  6. […] “heal” Deafness — by surgically altering Deaf infants at four months of age with cochlear implants — we must begin to wonder what will happen to Deaf schools in America that were founded in […]

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  7. […] world.  With Comcast in our lives, her ability to use a videophone the same way she used to use a TTY with a telephone is […]

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  8. […] big teletext machines shrank over time to become the size of a phone book and the TTY machine was found in every Deaf household as the standard communication device for over 30 […]

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