Thursday, 14 July 2016

Phone Services For The Deaf Need Better Reception

Echoes of the UK government, who refused to hep subsidise deaf relay at all.  Imagine what life would be like if you couldn't just pick up a phone and talk to a friend, loved one or colleague. You couldn't phone for a haircut appointment, change a restaurant booking, or call a help desk.

This was the reality faced by Australia's deaf community until 1995, when volunteers created a service that is little-known in the hearing community but is much-loved and depended on by the deaf.

The National Relay Service, now controlled by the Australian Government, enables the deaf to communicate with the non-deaf over a phone line. For instance, the captioned relay service uses voice recognition software to allow a deaf caller to speak into a phone and then read the call recipient's replies on a screen. 

Those who rely on sign language can make a video call to a relay officer who will then 'interpret' the message over the phone to the call recipient.

There are a number of other National Relay Service systems to help people with different modes of communication and call requirements. Combined, these services have made it easier for the deaf, hard of hearing and people with speech difficulties to lead fuller lives, build stronger relationships and increase job opportunities.

But this vital service is now under a cloud.

The Federal Government is conducting a comprehensive review of the National Relay Service and the questions being asked have deeply concerned Australia's deaf community. 

The Department of Communications and the Arts has stated that the cost of the service is an issue and that the deaf can instead use email, Facebook and live chat services "if they want to". It has also suggested that services could be rationed by the introduction of 'fair use' policies.

I would argue there is nothing 'fair' about restricting, abolishing or charging a premium for the National Relay Service when telecommunication services are readily available for everyone else.

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