Breakthrough Trust deaf directors, Andrew Kenyon in London and David Hyslop in Birmingham made the first UK telephone call. They used reconditioned Post Office Teleprinters (TTY) and a Phonetype (modem) system invented by a deaf American scientist Robert Weitbrecht. It was set-up by Michael King-Beer of Finedon Communications a Breakthrough Trust’s initiative.

It was an exciting time as it was start of deaf people were now able to be independent and not having to rely on their hearing peers / family /friends to make a telephone call on their behalf.

Michael King-Beer, Finedon Communications Director making a call with a Teleprinter
Michael King-Beer, Finedon Communications Director making a call with a Teleprinter

However, it meant a mammoth start of supplying TTYs to all deaf people in the UK who want to make a telephone call independently. As you needed two compatible devices at each end of the line to talk to each other. From that year forward we progressed through different telecommunication devices such as Vistel 1, Vistel 11, Minicoms before progressing to computers, mobile phones.

Relay phone service

Early 1980s, a prototype telephone relay service was introduced – RNID’s TED which became the direct forerunner of RNID Typetalk and todays RelayUK run by BT. This introduction meant the deaf community could make a telephone call via Relay operator to any hearing person.

The introduction of Mobile phones using SMS, FaceTime, Skype, Email, zoom and many apps today. They can now use a telecom service on equal terms with hearing people. Deaf Aspirations are supporting an event to be held April 2024 to celebrate golden anniversary of the first UK Telephone call. We will be acknowledging the early pioneers of deaf telecoms without which we would not have the technology of today.