June 22, 2021

Inside the Latch Intercom: How Latch is Changing Industry Standard Accessibility

According to the US Census Bureau, 18.8 million Americans experience hearing or vision difficulties. For many of those Americans, their ability to experience spaces is hampered by intercom accessibility features based on impractical, cumbersome, expensive, often  decades-old technology, making thoughtfully designed, accessible spaces outside the norm. At Latch, our products are designed for everyone. That’s why, when developing the Latch Intercom, creating an experience that is accessible to those who are hard of hearing, deaf, visually impaired, and blind was a top priority. 

The Current Standard

For those that are deaf or hard of hearing, intercoms typically connect to a teletypewriter, or TTY device, with a keyboard and a small screen. If an intercom has a TTY jack, a wire can connect the two devices and the resident and guest can use them to communicate. While TTY machines enable those that are deaf or hard of hearing to use an intercom, they are heavy, expensive, and only function if they are used at both ends of a conversation. In order to communicate, both the resident and the guest each need a TTY machine, making guest access impractical and inaccessible for many. For those that are blind or visually impaired, some intercoms have braille buttons, but not all do. 

Even with intercoms that have a TTY jack, guests are usually expected to bring their own personal TTY device. By requiring guests that are deaf or hard of hearing to carry around a TTY device, the burden of accessibility is placed on the user. 

The Latch Solution

At Latch, easy-to-use interfaces are a priority for everyone, regardless of ability. Instead of adding a TTY jack or braille buttons, our engineers worked on developing a function that utilizes real-time text, or RTT, and text-to-speech. RTT was first launched in 2017 as a modern alternative to TTY, and is now available on both Android and iOS. RTT eliminates the need for a TTY machine. By using RTT, the accessibility mode on the Latch Intercom can be used by anyone with a smartphone, without any additional hardware.  

How It Works

On the Latch Intercom, pressing the left button for five seconds triggers accessibility mode. Once triggered, a phone number is displayed for those who are deaf or hard of hearing to dial. This number is Latch issued, not the residents’, which ensures that the residents’ privacy is protected. 

Once the guest has dialed the number, a text-based dialog is shown on their smartphone’s RTT interface. The resident receives a call and is prompted to continue the conversation via RTT once they pick up. For guests that are blind or visually impaired, an audio recording gives instructions for navigating the interface. 

Through collaboration between multiple teams at Latch, it’s now possible for people of all abilities to enter spaces with our innovative, user-friendly experience. Although there is no legal requirement for intercoms beyond a TTY jack or Braille signage—and even those are not required for all buildings— Latch products are always thoughtfully designed to make them easy and convenient to use for everyone. 

While the Latch Intercom is the first intercom on the market to have this feature, it should not be the only one. In order to make it possible for any intercom system to implement this user flow, our engineering team has written a free, public guide with step-by-step instructions on how to utilize RTT technology and build a user-friendly accessibility mode. The mission at Latch is to make all spaces better places to live, work, and visit, and innovations like these should be available to all.