Australian Communications Consumer Action Network

Emergency SMS for Deaf Australians will save lives

Peak telecommunications consumer group ACCAN says the announcement made by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today regarding the National Relay Service (NRS) will save lives through a new service that will enable Deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired Australians to contact emergency services via SMS.

“This announcement today fulfils the promise made by the Minister in 2010 that Deaf and hearing impaired people will be able to use a text-based service to contact emergency services. Few can imagine how terrifying it would be in an emergency situation to not know if the person answering your Triple 0 call can understand you, or whether help is on the way,” said ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin.

Under the new contract between the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) and Australian Communications Exchange (ACE), Australians with disability will also benefit from a range of new NRS services including two-way internet relay service and web-captioned telephone service.

A new video relay service that enables Deaf Australians to communicate with anyone – hearing or Deaf – in their first language, Auslan (Australian Sign Language), will also be introduced.

“These new telecommunications services are going to be life-changing for people who are Deaf, speech or hearing impaired,” said ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin. “We congratulate ACE for winning the contract to run the National Relay Service. The new services the NRS will be offering from July 1 will be among the best in the world.

“The telephone typewriter (TTY) has served us well, but a major overhaul of the NRS was needed to
bring communications services for the Deaf, hearing and speech impaired into the 21st century. We know the announcement will be celebrated by people with disability right around the country, because it means they will be able to communicate via smartphone or computer, no matter where they are.”

ACCAN says that it is pleased that all of the key recommendations it made in its 2011 submission to the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) will be adopted.

TUSMA has also contracted Westwood Spice to continue to deliver outreach services for the NRS.