Mobile Phone for the Deaf
posted on Apr 24, 2009
Deaf people could be a step closer to a much-needed modernisation of the systems that allow them to make phone calls after a minister said last week that Ofcom wanted "the introduction of additional relay services".
Responding to a written question from Rosie Cooper MP asking if he would direct Ofcom to take steps to ensure relay services were modernised, the minister for employment relations, Pat McFadden, said that the regulator had commissioned a study of the social and economic benefits of such services.
"The study is examining the gap between services that are currently available and potential services," he said, adding that there was a universal recognition that disabled users should not be excluded from the benefits of modern telecommunications.
The only government-subsidised service of this kind at present is Typetalk, which relays calls between textphones and voice phones but works on analogue phone lines, not the digital lines now present in most workplaces.
The past few years have seen an explosion of relay services based on captioned telephony, which uses voice recognition software to transcribe calls so that deaf people can follow conversations while speaking on the phone.
Video phones and webcam technology have also enabled video relay, which enables users to communicate on the phone via a sign language interpreter.
While the UK has seen these type of relay services in the past few years, they are prohibitively expensive to the average user and, with no government subsidies, have had to close down. Meanwhile, in the US and Sweden, they have become widely available.
TAG, a consortium of organisations that campaign for deaf and hard of hearing people and have been lobbying for new-style services, describes the minister's comments as "forward-looking" and hopes that the study will open the door to existing services held back by financial constraints as well as allowing equality in the workplace.
Its chairperson, Ruth Myers, said: "We look forward to the Ofcom report which we believe will highlight the significance of new-style relay services for the life and employment chances of deaf people."
Speaking about current services, Myers said: "The existing Typetalk telephone relay service is of huge value to many deaf people, but under the current regulation cannot offer direct Internet access or newer, additional services like captioned telephony.
"For sign language users, video relay could significantly transform the lives of many deaf people."