A consortium of deaf organisations campaigning for deaf people to have equal access to the telephone is taking its case direct to Parliament.
As part of the ‘Bringing Deaf Telecoms into the 21st Century’ campaign, TAG, which represents all the main UK deaf organisations concerned with telecommunications and broadcasting, is holding a reception for MPs at Portcullis House, Westminster, on 15 October 2008.
At the Parliamentary Reception, hosted by The Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, TAG will reiterate its call to Government and Ofcom to put deaf people on to an equal footing with hearing people in their use of the telephone thus ending a key cause of exclusion that blights their employment and life chances.
Ruth Myers, chairman of TAG, said: “No-one can participate fully in today’s fast-moving society without easy and affordable access to the telephone. Much better access has been shown to be within grasp, but most of the services that deliver it have folded because they are too expensive for deaf individuals.
“Since the early 1990s, RNID Typetalk, funded entirely by BT under the Universal Service Obligation, has proved an invaluable text relay service enabling deaf and hearing people to communicate with each other by telephone. However, the current funding and governance arrangements provide no incentive for the funder to modernise the service.
“It’s essential that telephone services for deaf people keep pace with technology – and are available at a fair price. With modernised services such as using a PC to access the relay service, captioned telephony and video relay, many deaf people could have much faster and more fluent communications, thus bringing them closer to equality in education, training, the workplace and as consumers and citizens.”
With increasing numbers of MPs supporting the cause, it is expected that the issues TAG is battling for will soon be aired in the House of Commons.
Malcolm Bruce MP who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness and is hosting the reception said: “Four decades after telephones became commonplace in British households, many deaf people still struggle to use the telephone network and some cannot use it at all,”
He continued: “Deaf people are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain social, educational and professional equality with the rest of society.
“Modernised phone relay systems can dramatically improve their telecommunications, but the powers that be are dragging their feet in ensuring that they are available and affordable. This is an increasing and unintended form of discrimination that must be rectified. The sorts of services that are required are already available at no extra cost to individuals in countries such as Sweden, the USA and Australia.”
Notes to Editors:
Case Studies available on request
Deaf telephone services that can change lives:
Captioned telephony was available in the UK from 2002-2007 on a very limited basis. With two communication channels, speech recognition software to convert the relay operator’s voice into text, deaf people can read the conversations on their PCs or telephone displays with minimal delay. Captel, the only captioned relay service in the UK, was closed in December 2007 for funding reasons.
Video relay enables sign language users to communicate on the telephone through a sign language interpreter. The sign language user and interpreter interact via PCs and webcams or videophones. Two services currently operate in the UK: Significan’t’s SignVideo service and a fledgling service in Scotland. Last year, video relay services run by RNID and the BDA closed.
Text relay has existed in the UK since the 1980s and as a national service, RNID Typetalk, since 1991, but funding issues have inhibited its development. Specifically, Typetalk is only accessible via now-obsolete analogue phone lines. Text relay enables deaf people with keyboards and screens to communicate via an operator who speaks or types parts of conversations as required. In its current format, the relay process can be quite slow and can inhibit conversations. Nonetheless it is a hugely valuable service. TAG wants to see developments in text relay which, for example, speed up the communication and allows access via the Internet.
Detailed list of TAG’s demands
TAG wants the Government and Ofcom to commit to delivering promptly on the following before the end of 2008:
- Interoperable, affordable real-time text communication on mobile and IP networks
- Interoperable, open-standards based captioned relay services at no extra cost
- A UK national open standards based video relay service for fixed, mobile and Internet users
- Open-standards based IP access to text relay services
- Suitable text and video tariffs on all mobile networks.
Stephen Fleming at Palam Communications
t: 01635 299116
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