VIP Communicator - Automated Data Systems Inc. Became Ultratec
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 VIP Communicator - Automated Data Systems Inc.

1978 The VIP COMMUNICATOR - The world's first hand-held pocket-sized TTY is introduced.

Note -  Looking for more  info to add to this section. If you were involved with the company 
feel free to tell some history.  Many thanks  Ed Sharpe Archivist  for SMECC


Rob Engelke
VIP Creator
(Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)


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. The name of the first company was 'Automated Data Systems Inc.'

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 developed 
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).


The VIP Communicator – one of the first TTYs produced by Robert Engleke - when the company was called  Automated Data Systems.  Hand-held, the VIP Communicator also included a little display you could clip onto your shirt that showed words as you typed so another person could view the conversation also!.   Shown here, the acoustic coupler is shown in the open position ready to accept a phone handset. From the Zimet/Black Collection at  SMECC - Photo (c)  SMECC


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The VIP Communicator – one of the first TTYs produced by Robert Engleke - when the company was called  Automated Data Systems.  At right-  Close-up of LED display  From the Zimet/Black Collection at  SMECC - Photos (c)  SMECC



At left-  Close-up shows this second example does not have the  top case opening to attach
 the 'Talking Pocket' attachment.   At right-   
The VIP is ready to travel with  coupler...
all of it  fits into a nice belt pouch!
From the Gene Rankin Collection at  SMECC - Photos (c)  SMECC

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Manual for the he VIP Communicator –   From the Zimet/Black Collection at  SMECC 



TDI 1978-1979 International Telephone Directory of the Deaf from the  Paul and Sally Taylor Collection at  SMECC 


Rob Engelke VIP creator in his own words, sign-interpreted.






Rob Engelke - At  reunion time-

Great to see all of the stories and find out what "really" happened to friends and classmates for the past 40 years! Looks like just about everyone's had a great time, although I am terribly sorry to see the names of those that have already slipped away (glad to know that Mary Wright is insisting she HAS NOT YET slipped away - way to go Mary - please keep it that way). And thanks for the great website, Bob! A lot of WORK and we appreciate it!

After getting my degree from UW Madison in Electrical Engineering, I married my wife, Sue, and for 10 years, we both worked at the University. I worked for several departments including the Space Astronomy Lab (worked on "space capsules" as they were known in those days), and later with the TRACE Center which is a rehabilitation engineering center that designs assistive communication devices for persons with severe, multiple communicative disorders (kids with CP and retardation and deaf-blind people for example). While there, I became interested in ways that deaf people could use the telephone and after several years working in the area, started a little company in my basement to make "TDDs" (basically small typewriter-like devices that deaf people use to communicate over the phone by "typing" to each other). Now, after 25 years, the Sue and I are still with the company ( which has grown quite a bit and is located in the University of Wisconsin Research Park where we make, among other things, Susie and I have two sons, Christopher (after spending a year as a student and teacher in Katmandu Nepal, is currently finishing up his Anthropology degree at Arizona and then off to grad school), and Timothy (currently a junior at UW Madison in Political Science). All happy, and doing fine! (from the 'net-date?)



Deaf-communication pioneer to receive honorary degree

May 3, 2012

by David Tenenbaum  - University of Wisconsin (with permission)

On May 18, Rob Engelke, chief executive officer of Ultratec, Inc., will receive an honorary doctorate at a commencement ceremony at the Kohl Center on the UW-Madison campus.

Engelke was cited for creating extraordinary advances that have enabled deaf and hard-of-hearing people worldwide to communicate via telephone.

In the 1970s, Engelke was building computers and selling them to campus researchers. At about the same time that Apple’s founders were making computers in the garage, Engelke had already moved on.

Realizing that deaf people could not use the telephone, he decided to make a teletypewriter that could communicate via text. Although some deaf people were using clunky, costly teletypewriters cast off by newspapers, their supply was finite.

In 1977, Engelke founded Ultratec and began building a miniature, microprocessor-based teletypewriter (TTY) that plugged into a regular phone line. The $150 device allowed deaf people to converse with anybody else who had a TTY, including the government agencies and emergency services that began buying from Ultratec.

Ultratec, unlike Apple, did not become a worldwide brand, but it did revolutionize telecommunications for the deaf in about 15 countries.

By listening to his customers in the deaf community, Engelke created two privately held firms that account for about 900 jobs at the University Research Park in Madison and a total of about 2,000 nationwide.

It’s not about the designer, Engelke says.

“People cannot care less about what is inside the box,” he says. “It’s a mantra here: ‘Don’t talk about what you think you can do, listen to what people need. Then figure out how to get that to happen.’” 

Having survived radical changes in the technological landscape -- including ubiquitous texting on phones and computers -- Ultratec continues to demonstrate that you can do well by doing good.

And it all started with listening.

Engelke was born and raised in Madison. His father was principal of Nakoma Elementary School, and his mother worked as a clinical psychologist after her kids were grown.

“We never had a new car, never had money to spare, but we were not starving,” he says.

As a teenager, Engelke worked at Central Colony, the predecessor of the Central Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled, and “got an initial exposure to the idea that not everybody had the same range of talents and abilities.”

After getting a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from UW-Madison in 1968, Engelke did technology work for the psychology department and began building computers -- until he met some deaf people and recognized the difficulty of life without a telephone.

Working in his basement, Engelke figured out how to place a miniature TTY inside the plastic housing of an early electronic calculator. As Ultratec’s small, affordable TTYs began selling, they attracted the attention of Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace Center on campus, which, then and now, advocates accessibility for emerging technologies. 


“Today, Ultratec is the premier company internationally in the area of deaf telecommunication,” says Vanderheiden, a longtime friend.  “Not only did Rob reinvent (the TTY), he also invented an entirely new form of communication for individuals who are hard of hearing, called captioned telephony.”

That business has grown into CapTel, a separate company that, like Ultratec, is also based in the research park. When a person with a hearing impairment uses CapTel, a “communications assistant” repeats the other party’s words so they can be interpreted by voice-recognition software. The assistant quickly corrects the automatic text, and a verbatim transcript is then routed to a screen on the user’s phone.

The service is free to users and supported by small fees on telephone bills.

CapTel works like a TTY when a deaf person calls a hearing person, providing the best of both worlds to millions more who have some hearing, but find phone calls challenging. Because these users hear the voice, the emotional content of the conversation is much richer, but they still get to read any undecipherable words. 

CapTel has been a revolution, says Engelke, and it now employs about 700 people in Madison in a five-story building next to Ultratec’s factory.

Engelke says he “was floored” to learn that UW-Madison has recognized his record of humanitarian and engineering success.

“I think it’s a wonderful honor that I share with everybody who helped bring this about; clearly this is due to the efforts of a lot of people,” he says.

One of them is Pamela Young-Holmes.

 “She’s the kind of person who walks into your life and changes it,” Engelke says. “In 1987, she came in to complain: Her TTY wasn’t working, and we needed to be more careful about quality. I talked to her [Engelke is adept in American Sign Language], said that things do fail, but we fix them. I asked right there if she would consider working for us … and she now directs our consumer and regulatory affairs and customer service for CapTel.”

According to Young-Holmes, “Rob is one of those rare, extraordinary men in life who has already left a footprint on earth far greater than his shoe size… Rob has put his heart, soul and brilliant intellectual mind to work for tremendous impact on the lives of so many others.”

Ideas come from all directions, and the problem-solving engineer never seems to be in “pause” mode.  Watching an interviewer speed typing, he asks what technology is in use, and wonders whether it could be incorporated in a possible product for people who, like Helen Keller, are blind and deaf. 

Admittedly, this is a tiny market with essentially no profit potential, but Engelke does a judo takedown on this “can’t do” logic.

“We don’t expect to make money on this, but if we don’t make it, who will?” he asks.

Engelke is married to Susan, who is chief financial officer at Ultratec.

Both of their children have signaled an interest in working with Ultratec. Timothy, a lawyer, wants to get involved in business operations and in the advocacy and regulatory areas that affect the deaf and hard of hearing community. Christopher is experimenting with a communication strategy for “locked-in” people who have neurological problems and must communicate with agonizingly slow movements of facial muscles.

The invention, Engelke says, produces such an obvious acceleration in their speech that the test subjects are demanding, “We've got to have this right now.” 

Having read this far, you know where this is going. Christopher “is calling on Ultratec to produce a device,” Engelke says approvingly.

Basically, Engelke isn’t much interested in ideas that don’t have a social purpose.

 “We’ve got more than enough to do,” Engelke says. "If it was all about making money, I suppose there would be temptations for spin-off products, but that’s business for business’s sake, and that is not what we are interested in doing.”



ULTRATEC Inc. Technology Timeline

Our experienced engineers continually look for new ways to make text telecommunication more convenient and affordable, eliminating barriers to the phone through technology. Many of the capabilities you enjoy everyday with your TTY are Ultratec inventions.


1978 The VIP COMMUNICATOR - The world's first hand-held pocket-sized TTY is introduced.
(Company was Automated Data Systems at that time)
1980 Ultratec introduces the SUPERPHONE - The world's first TTY with memory, ASCII code, voice output, and touch-tone input.
1981 Ultratec introduces the world's first low-cost, full keyboard TTY, the MINICOM, making TTYs affordable to tens of thousands of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
1982 Ultratec introduces the MINIPRINT - The world's first low-cost, printing TTY.

Ultratec welcomes Dr. Robert H. Weitbrecht, inventor of the first TTY and renowned physicist, to its engineering staff.

Ultratec introduces the first portable braille TTY for persons with both visual and hearing loss.

1983 Ultratec introduces the MINICOM II - An enhanced, extremely low-cost TTY that quickly becomes the market leader.


Ultratec introduces the WATCHMAN SIGNALING SYSTEM - A low cost, flexible family of signalers for alerting people with hearing loss to telephone ring and other household sounds.

1984 Ultratec introduces the INTELE-TYPE - The first portable 80-column printing TTY with upper/lower case letters, sophisticated multiple memory features, and auto answering.


Ultratec introduces the INTELE-MODEM - An ASCII/Baudot converting modem that allows home computers and ASCII terminals to communicate with TTYs.

Ultratec collaborates on the TELEBRAILLE - A second portable braille TTY with advanced features and greatly reduced size and cost.

1985 Ultratec introduces the SUPERPRINT SERIES - The first modular, upgradeable series of printing TTYs with memory, auto-answer, ASCII, and human engineering to simplify training and use. 


Ultratec makes a significant technical breakthrough with ENHANCED ACOUSTIC RECEPTION SYSTEM (E.A.R.S.) which greatly reduces compatibility and reception problems that have plagued users for years.

Major telephone companies including Illinois Bell, General Telephone of California, Michigan Bell, Southern New England Telephone, Hawaiian Telephone, Alberta Government Telephone, Ameritech Services, Southern Bell, Bell South Services, and Manitoba Telephone choose Ultratec as their supplier of TTY equipment.

1986 Ultratec develops the MINICOM III and IV series of low-cost TTYs with expanded features and better improved factors.

Ultratec develops the VOICE ANNOUNCER which tells the person receiving the call that a TTY is being used. This innovation reduces the risk of mishandled emergency calls and gives the TTY user a positive method of indicating the nature of the call.

Ultratec continues to expand its service network across the United States and Canada, and begins establishing sales and service facilities in South America and Europe.

1987 Ultratec introduces the SUPERCOM, the first low-cost fully featured TTY.

Ultratec introduces the TDD DETECTOR, a device that connects to the telephone line to detect incoming TDD/TTY tones so that emergency service agencies will respond appropriately.

Ultratec begins manufacturing TTYs that communicate in numerous languages and codes for use in countries throughout the world.

Ultratec introduces the first public access TTY, the PAY PHONE TDD (PUBLIC TTY), capable of being installed in pay phone booths.

1988 Ultratec develops the first LARGE VISUAL DISPLAY for TTY users who are visually impaired.

Ultratec introduces the SUPER SIGNAL SYSTEM, the first comprehensive system that alerts the user to all of the sounds in his or her home with addressable modules.

Ultratec invents and patents VOICE CARRY OVER and HEARING CARRY OVER (VCO/HCO) for dual party TTY relay systems, whereby a person may use his or her own voice to speak directly to the other party through the relay and have the operator relay text in the other direction.

1989 Ultratec introduces five new models of TTYs including models designed expressly for use by 9-1-1 and other emergency providers.

Ultratec expands its operations to Great Britain, establishing a European sales office whose President and top management are deaf. Working closely with British deaf groups and British Telecom, new TTY models are designed to meet the unique specifications for Great Britain's deaf telecommunications network.

Ultratec continues to expand its product line to include TTYs for more than 25 countries, 12 different languages, and four different telecommunications codes.

Ultratec begins design and planning of its new TECHNOLOGY CENTER.

In hearings before the California Public Utilities Commission, Ultratec TTYs are demonstrated to be more reliable and cost effective by a large margin in comparison to other TTY brands in California's TTY distribution program, the nation's oldest and largest distribution program.

1990 Ultratec introduces the COMPACT, a fold-up, pocket-sized TTY for mobile communications with advanced features for connecting to computers and information services. This is the first of several new generation products Ultratec will produce for the world TTY market.

Ultratec expands its capabilities to include robotic assembly.

Construction begins of the ULTRATEC HEADQUARTERS in the University of Wisconsin Research Park in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ultratec begins building TTY products for AT&T.

1991 Ultratec is awarded its 21st state distribution program contract.

Ultratec moves into its new 72,000 square foot barrier-free CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS AND TECHNOLOGY CENTER facility.

As an employer with over 20% of the staff being persons with special needs, Ultratec is awarded a $250,000 training grant for training staff with disabilities.

1992 Ultratec introduces a new series of the PAY PHONE TDD (PUBLIC TTY). This is a motorized model for use in high traffic areas. There is also a motorized model designed for outdoor, all-weather applications.

Ultratec develops AUTO ID. Auto ID is activated when the TTY is turned on. TTY tones are automatically sent to alert the answering party, such as emergency service personnel, that it is a TTY call.

Ultratec develops and patents TURBO CODE, an enhanced communications protocol that allows TTY users to transmit their words as fast as they type. As long as both TTYs are equipped with Turbo Code, telephone conversations for TTY users are in "real-time."

SUPERPRINT 4420, introduced by Ultratec, is a compact, printing TTY that offers the most advanced features available in a TTY. The Superprint 4420 offers a built-in printer with three selectable print sizes, call progress, optional ASCII, time and date functions, Auto ID, and Turbo Code.

1993 Ultratec introduces the UNIPHONE, the first ever combination TTY, standard telephone with volume control, and voice carry over TTY. The Uniphone can be shared by people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing, making it the first universal phone that everyone can use.


1994 Ultratec introduces new fully-featured SUPERPRINT 4225 for acoustic use, 32k memory, Turbo Code, and convenient GA/SK keys.

Ultratec announces a new design and new features for its series of printing TTYs. The new look includes a white and gray computer-style keyboard with convenient GA/SK and arrow keys. New model numbers in the series are SUPERPRINT 4425, MINIPRINT 425, and MINIPRINT 225.

Ultratec introduces the new SUPERCOM 4400, the latest in the company's line of advanced TTYs. The SUPERCOM 4400 is a non-printing TTY that includes advanced capabilities such as Turbo Code, Auto ID, auto-answer, 32k memory, and direct connect features.

Ultratec expands on Uniphone all-in-one technology to offer customers a choice between a basic model (UNIPHONE 1000) and an advanced model (UNIPHONE 1140) with memory, auto-answer, and dialing directory.

The UNIPHONE 1150, a version of the Uniphone designed specifically for use in the UK, is tremendously well received in England.

The Ontario Ministry of Health approves new Ultratec TTYs for its Assistive Devices Program in Canada. The program, which included Ultratec products since it first began, now offers over sixteen Ultratec models to choose from.

1995 Ultratec designs a new low-priced, easy-to-install shelf-top PUBLIC TTY. The new PUBLIC TTY ST simply bolts to any existing payphone shelf, making installation quick and easy. While still vandal-resistant, the new model can be used acoustically so it can be installed independently of the telephone service provider.

Ultratec begins designing and producing alpha-numeric paging products for Motorola, the recognized leader in the rapidly expanding paging market.

1996 The MINICOM 7000 SERIES of advanced text telephones is introduced in the UK. Both the MINICOM 7000 and the MINICOM 7000 PLUS feature advanced technology including direct connect, auto-answer, 32k memory, and a Relay Voice Announcer that tells hearing callers to phone through the National Relay Service. The Minicom 7000 Plus also includes a built-in printer.

Ultratec introduces the EZCOM PRO TTY - A simple, low cost, direct connect only TTY with directory dialing, speed dial Relay key, an easy to use VCO request key, and a long battery life for portable use. The EZcom Pro is the first truly portable direct connect TTY that can be used with a cellular phone and a data interface. 

TURBO CODE and AUTO ID become standard features offered in ALL Ultratec desktop TTYs.

1997 Ultratec announces the SUPERPRINT PRO80 TTY(tm) - The most advanced TTY available. Designed for direct-connect use only, it includes a full-size computer keyboard, extra large 32-character display, and a built-in, full-size 80-column printer that uses traditionally sized (8 1/2" wide) thermal paper. CALLER ID capability is included in a TTY for the first time, as well as customer favorites such as Auto-Answer, dialing directory, Relay Dial key, Relay Voice Announcer, Turbo Code, and Auto ID.


1998 Ultratec, Inc. celebrates 20 years of connecting people with people!


Ultratec announces two new additions to the SUPERPRINT PRO80 SERIES. The SUPERPRINT PRO80 GOLD(tm) and the SUPERPRINT PRO80 LVD(tm) TTYs. Both models boast all of the features of the standard SUPERPRINT PRO80 plus enhanced display options and other features.

The SUPERPRINT PRO80 GOLD offers a two-line, 80-character display for easy reading of conversations and Caller ID information.

The SUPERPRINT PRO80 LVD offers an impressive built-in Large Visual Display (one-line, 20-characters) for low vision users. The Superprint Pro80 LVD model also offers extra large printing capability in addition to the three print sizes offered in all Ultratec printing TTYs.

The COMPACT/C and the EZCOM PRO/C TTYs join Ultratec's line of products as ideal TTYs for use with analog cellular or cordless telephones. Ultratec is the first company to offer wireless TTY access that is easy and more affordable than previously available on the market.


1999 Ultratec announces the CRYSTALTONE premiere amplified telephone. CrystalTone gives users flexibility to customize the sound quality, tone control, and volume level that they hear best. In addition to offering one of the most powerful amplifiers available, the CrystalTone includes an extremely loud ringer, a bright visual ring flasher, and popular phone features like redial, memory dial buttons and a large, easy-to-see keypad.


Ultratec introduces its second phone in the CrystalTone line, the CRYSTALTONE PLUS. This top-of-the-line phone offers the most powerful amplifier (up to 50dB), a built-in traditional speakerphone and quality sound enhancement while screening out background noises.


Ultratec and Sprint conduct a six-month technology trial in which Sprint's Telecommunications Relay Service uses Ultratec's new voice recongnition technology. FASTRAN is intended to improve the quality of communications for all relay users (deaf and hard-of-hearing) to communicate by phone.


2000 Ultratec announces a powerful new loud telephone ringer - the CRYSTALTONE RINGER. The latest in the company's CrystalTone line of amplified products, the new ringer amplifies up to 95dB, substantially louder than the volume of a traditional ring.


Consumer testing begins on CAPTEL, or Captioned Telephone, a new breakthrough that allows people who have difficulty understanding what is being said over the telephone to receive live captions of their telephone conversations. CapTel is the key to making telephone calls functionally equivalent to traditional voice calls, enabling people who are deaf orhard of hearing to enjoy telephone conversations with the same ease, speed, and confidence as telephone callers everywhere.


Ultratec introduces the new SIMPLICITY SIGNALERS an attractive system of signalers that turn everyday sounds into signals that can be seen. Individual units include a variety of TELEPHONE RING SIGNALERS, DOORBELL SIGNALERS, SOUND SIGNALERS, REMOTE RECEIVERS and the ADD-ON STROBE. Simplicity also includes an exclusive wireless doorbell signaler, which uses radio frequency instead of traditional wires.


  Ultratec is named International Research Park COMPANY OF THE YEAR by the Association of University Related Research Parks. In presenting the award, AURRP commends Ultratec's leadership in advancing technology, its dedication to quality and innovation, and its commitment to diversity in employment practices.


2001 Ultratec unveils its new five-story COMMUNICATIONS RESEARCH CENTER, the company's third building in the University of Wisconsin Research Park. This stunning landmark facility is dedicated to testing and supporting new communications technologies, including CapTel captioning service.
  Every Relay in the nation supports Ultratec's enhanced communications protocol, TURBO CODE.
  Ultratec adds the SIMPLICITY TELEPHONE/DOOR SIGNALER LTW. This combination signaler provides a cost-effective way to be alerted to both the doorbell and the telephone.
2002 Consumer testing continues on CapTel throughout the United States, with more and more states conducting consumer trials over the course of the year.


  In recognition of its adoption of Ultratec's CapTel and Fastran technology, the state of Wisconsin receives the NASCIO Recognition Award for Outstanding Achievement in the field of Information Technology.


2003 CapTel technology is APPROVED BY THE FCC, enabling individual states to offer CapTel as part of their relay services. In announcing the decision, FCC Chairman Michael Powell states that CapTel “brings important innovation and additional choice to Americans with hearing disabilities.”


  Ultratec develops 2-line CapTel, offering CapTel users even greater flexibility/control over their own calls.


2004 In January, Hawaii becomes the first state to offer FULL SERVICE CAPTEL to its Relay customers.  Many more states convert from consumer trials to full service CapTel over the course of the year.  By December, the majority of states, nationwide, offer full service CapTel as part of their standard relay service.  CapTel service is also available nationwide through the Federal Relay Service.


2005 Expansion continues at Ultratec's Communications Research Center as interest and demand for CapTel service continues to soar.


2006 The FCC approves IP-BASED CAPTEL service, paving the way for people to receive CapTel captions of their telephone calls using the convenience of the Internet.


2007 CapTel expands to open a NEW CALL CENTER in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, the new call center provides expanded service for CapTel users nationwide, while creating hundreds of job opportunities for local residents. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett officially opens the new center.


2008 Both Hamilton Relay and Sprint begin offering WEBCAPTEL service over the Internet. WebCapTel enables people to view captions of their telephone calls in their web browser during their conversations. With WebCapTel, people use whatever telephone they want - their cell phone, business phone, or home service - and still view captions of the call on their computer screen.



The Superphone – Ultratec TTY released in the 1980s.  It was the first TTY with memory, 
ASCII code, voice output, and touch-tone input.
(Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)

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. 




The Minicom II – introduced in 1983 as a portable inexpensive TTY.  Made it possible for families to afford more than 
one TTY, allowing them to communicate with friends and family in different areas. 
(Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)


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.


From the Tom Rule Collection At SMECC
1987 Ultratec introduces the SUPERCOM, the first low-cost fully featured TTY.

The Inteletype – introduced in 1984.  (Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)



Ultratec COMPACT (Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)


 Dr. Robert Engelke, President of Ultratec, with Dr. Robert Weitbrecht. (Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)

Dr. Weitbrecht invented the modem that made TTY communications for the deaf possible.  Dr. Weitbrecht worked with Ultratec in the later part of his career, and Ultratec's West Coast Distributor in California is still named after him (WCI - Weitbrecht Communications, Inc.)  Ultratec includes a picture and acknowledges Dr. Weitbrecht's work and contributions to TTY development in the user manual of every TTY Ultratec produces. (Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.) 

(Photo courtesy of Ultratec Inc.)

History of Ultratec

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….  From the Ultratech website 2012





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Postal address - Admin. 
Coury House / SMECC 
5802 W. Palmaire Ave 
Glendale, AZ 85301 

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