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Relevant legislation

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is the Australian telecommunications regulator overseeing among other things:

  • The Telecommunications Act 1997
  • the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999
  • The Telecommunications (Equipment for the Disabled) Regulations 1998

People with disabilities have the right to access voice telephony, or an equivalent, under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Features and equipment that must be available on or for use with the standard telephone services (STS) are:

  • one-touch dialling memory
  • hands free capability—a speaker and/or a handset cradle
  • built-in hearing aid coupler
  • cochlear implant telephone adaptor
  • volume control—to amplify either the incoming or outgoing caller's voice
  • alternative alerts to indicate that the telephone is ringing—either an additional ringing device with adjustable volume, tone and pitch, or a visual alert
  • lightweight handset
  • the facility to connect a second piece of equipment in parallel with the existing telephone

Customer equipment used with the STS, including fax machines with a handset system, must have:

  • a raised 'pip' on the '5' digit key—this tactile indicator helps people who are blind or vision-impaired to locate number keys
  • hearing aid couplers built into the handset limits the strength of the magnetic field radiated from standard handset receivers and minimises interference for a person with a hearing aid

National Relay Service Equipment

The National Relay Service (NRS) helps people who are Deaf, Deaf-blind or have a hearing or speech impairment communicate over the telephone network via operator-assisted text, video and voice telephony. The NRS must provide the following equipment:

  • teletypewriter (TTY)— this helps users to type their message on a keyboard and read the conversation on a screen
  • modem— to help users on a computer to type their message and read the conversation on the computer screen
  • telebraille— this helps users to type their message on a Braille keyboard and read the conversation in Braille.

Type and Read

If a person with a TTY or a computer modem wants to communicate with someone who does not have this type of device, they can use the NRS. Alternatively, a hearing person who wishes to communicate with someone who is Deaf or has a hearing or speech impairment, but does not have a TTY or a computer modem, can also use the NRS. The NRS can facilitate a text to voice or voice to text call.

Type and Listen

The type and listen service allows people with a speech impairment to better access the telephone service. A type and listen user can listen to the phone conversation of another person and type their responses on a TTY. The NRS facilitates such a call by connecting the two parties.

Speak and Read

The speak and read service is for people who have a hearing impairment but no speech impairment. A speak and read user uses their speech to communicate with a hearing person over the telephone and reads the responses on a TTY. The NRS facilitates such a call by connecting the two parties. The NRS also offers a service that allows communication between two speak and read users, known as speak and read to speak and read. It enables two people with a hearing impairment to both use natural speech to communicate with each other via the NRS and read the responses from the other person on a TTY.

Speak and Listen Relay

This service is for users with a speech impairment. It enables them to have a two-way conversation over the telephone. The speech impaired caller speaks directly to another person over the telephone while the NRS relay officer listens in the background to the call and will repeat any part of the message that has not been understood by the receiver of the call. The relay officer spends time at the beginning of the call getting to know the caller's speech style and if necessary, the details of what the call is about.

Text Emergency Service

The TTY and modem number for the Emergency Relay Service is 106.

The 106 Emergency Relay Service allows people who are Deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment to contact emergency services (police, fire and ambulance services) using a text based communication device such as a TTY or a computer with modem access.

As of 1 July 2013 the National Relay Service also offers:

  • Video relay for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired and who prefer to use Auslan. This service is available Monday-Friday 7.00 am – 6.00 pm (EST)
  • SMS relay to connect to the NRS using SMS text. This service is available 24 hrs/7 days a week

Accessing equipment

Telstra has to offer the full range of disability equipment, under the USO, but both Telstra and Optus have Disability Equipment Programs (see below).

Telecommunications Equipment for People with Disability

For more information read this ACMA article.

The Australian Human Rights Commission

Under Section 24 of Australia's Disability Discrimination Act (1992), providers of goods and services are required to make those goods and services available to all Australians including those with disability, unless to do so would incur undue hardship. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) provides information about how this Section of the DDA relates to the provision of telecommunications goods and services. For more information go to the Human Rights Commission website.

Communications Alliance Guideline G586:2006

This Guideline has been withdrawn. The information contained in the guideline is now provided on the Communications Alliance website. The information provides considerations for industry participants to ensure that the communication needs of people with disabilities and older people continue to be met in the current and emerging communications environments. It is intended to act as an underlying set of guidelines for consideration in all Communications Alliance activities and those of industry participants, and is for the information of consumers with a disability. For more information go to the Communications Alliance website.