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In very good news for people who are Deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired, the National Relay Service (NRS) has announced that callers to Triple Zero (000) using internet relay will receive queue priority. But while this update is a step in the right direction, many people with disability still can’t make emergency calls.

The change means that emergency calls made using internet relay will be answered before any non-emergency calls and that the relay officer will also be prepared for the fact that it is an emergency call. Internet relay allows people who are Deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired to ‘call’ anyone from their computer (including some smartphones). The person uses the internet to contact an NRS relay officer, who then calls the requested number. The internet relay user types what they want to say, and the relay officer reads this out to the person on the phone. When that person speaks, the relay officer types out what they say, and the caller reads it on their computer screen.

While this change is a great step in the right direction, it is not enough to ensure that everyone with a disability has access to emergency services. Two years ago, in April 2010, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, announced his intention to establish an SMS emergency service, a service which would allow every person with disability who has a mobile phone to contact fire, police and ambulance services. The caller would not need a smartphone or access to the internet.

The safety of people with disability – and their friends, families and fellow citizens – is at risk unless emergency calls are available to all. That’s why ACCAN and other stakeholders are lobbying for the introduction of the SMS emergency call service foreshadowed by Senator Conroy. You can read the community’s position statement on the issue here. It calls upon the Government to introduce both the SMS emergency call service, and another solution, a smartphone app, as soon as possible.

To read more about access to emergency calls for people with disability, see our report, The Queensland flood disaster: Access for people with disability and our Supplementary submission to Telecommunications (Emergency Call Service) Determination 2009.

For more information about updates to internet relay, visit here.