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A Phone of Our Own: The Deaf Insurrection Against Ma Bell
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The radio equipment Weitbrecht carried around the country in his Chevrolet station wagon was so heavy that he began to search for ways to make things more compact. In 1958, Weitbrecht left Yerkes and returned to California, this time to work at the Stanford Research Institute. In fact, he reported in RTTY about a trip to the San Mateo, California, Hamfest in 1959. “It is always interesting to see ‘how portable’ one can make his station, no matter whether high powered or low powered.”

He also sought ways to win others over to radioteletype technology. “Sure a lot of effort and work to move and set up gear, but it’s all in fun and we wanted to demonstrate RTTY to the ‘unwashed multitude’ . . . . Maybe we’ll have a few more converts, yet!” In another article, he sounded off his anger over the smashing of used TTYs by telephone companies (to assure that the machines would never be used in commercial competition). Pacific Telephone Company had recently released some machines to radio amateurs, but he noted with regret that amateur use of teleprinters would never grow with the destruction of TTYs by many other telephone companies. “We are sure AT&T Co. and its subsidiaries want us to win the next war, but a little more cooperation in making available the cast off machines would be a great help in the amateur radio self-training field.” These early struggles with portability and availability of TTY equipment prepared him well for his later battles in support of the deaf community’s quest for telephone access.

The Next Challenge: Creating a Telephone for Deaf People
The story of the “telephone for the deaf” began on a summer day in 1963 when Weitbrecht was hiking on Lassen Peak with his young hearing friend Larry Laitinen. He and Laitinen shared a common interest in photography. Since early 1960, they had enjoyed excursions with their cameras at Lassen Peak, their favorite stomping grounds. Lassen Peak is one of the few active volcanoes in the United States outside of Alaska and Hawaii. Weitbrecht loved the mountains. Climbing Lassen Peak brought him closer to the stars. During his treks he also dreamed of one day flying above the clouds in his own private plane.


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