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In August, the government issued a "request for tender" for the National Relay Service (NRS). The NRS offers a phone solution for people who are Deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired.

The information that follows explains what types of services might be offered to NRS users in the future by the organisation who is successful in winning the government contracts.

View this information in Auslan: YouTube video (external site)

Background

The current government contracts for the NRS will finish in June 2013. From 1 July 2013, a new government agency called the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) is responsible for awarding two NRS contracts. One contract is for the relay call centre, and the other is for outreach services like marketing and training. 

TUSMA uses a tender process to make its decision. TUSMA might contract the same companies who currently provide the NRS, or TUSMA might choose different companies.

TUSMA will announce who has won the tenders in late 2012.

The Request for Tender Process

The Request for Tender (RFT) is a document prepared by TUSMA. It was released on 15 August 2012. It provides information to the companies who want to bid to become the NRS provider. Bids must be in by 10 October 2012. For consumers, the RFT is very important because it explains what services must be provided by the NRS.

The RFT says that the NRS must continue to provide all the same services it provides now. The NRS already provides many services including:

  • Type and Read
  • Speak and Read
  • Internet Relay
  • TTY 106 emergency service

Will the NRS provide any new services from 1 July 2013?

There is one new service which the RFT says the NRS must provide: two-way internet relay.

Currently, people who are Deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired can use internet relay to make calls but not receive calls. A two-way internet relay service would mean that people could also receive calls via internet relay on their computer or mobile device. Users might need to register in order to receive calls.

What new services might be included?

The RFT has proposed two other possible NRS services:

  1. Captioned telephony
  2. Video relay (VRS)

Bidders must include these services in their tender bids. TUSMA says it will probably agree to the NRS providing captioned telephony. TUSMA may also agree to the NRS providing some VRS, depending on how much it costs. We won’t know whether the NRS will provide captioned telephony or VRS until late 2012.

Captioned telephony

Captioned telephony is for Deaf or hearing-impaired people who use their own speech on the phone. Some people call it CapTel, which is actually the name of a company that provides captioned telephony products.

Users say it is a smoother and more natural way of having a conversation than using a TTY (telephone typewriter).  It lets users speak normally, use any residual hearing to listen to the other person, and read a real-time transcription of what the other person says on a screen.

Captioned telephony is available in some other countries in two ways - using a special phone or using a computer or smartphone/tablet.

The RFT does not say which technology could be used in Australia if captioned telephony is made available. If it is provided, it must start on 1 July 2013 or soon after.

Video Relay Service (VRS)

VRS enables people who are Deaf and use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to make phone calls in their preferred language. The Deaf person uses a videophone or tablet/smartphone/computer with a webcam to contact the relay officer. The relay officer then calls the other person and interprets the call between them. The RFT says that the relay officer should be bilingual in English and Auslan. It does not say the relay officer should be a NAATI accredited interpreter. If VRS is provided, it must start around January 2014.

Access to emergency services

At the moment, NRS users can call emergency services in these ways:

  • By calling 106 from a TTY
  • By calling the NRS and requesting Triple Zero (000) from a TTY, or from a landline or mobile device using Speak and Listen (for people with speech impairment), or through internet relay.

The RFT Statement of Requirement says that the NRS must:

  1. Make sure that NRS users can call emergency services using 106 from a TTY, and 000 from a TTY, and through Speak and Listen and internet relay (as already happens now)
  2. Allow text based internet relay to Triple Zero (000) from mobile devices like smart phones and tablets (as already happens now) – the tender does not say anything about SMS or a smartphone app.
  3. Make sure that emergency calls get priority (as already happens now)
  4. Make sure that internet relay can be used from a range of mobile devices
  5. Make sure that captioned telephony and VRS users can make emergency calls, if those services are provided.

Further background

The tender can be viewed at:

https://www.tenders.gov.au/?event=public.atm.show&ATMUUID=2913A2AE-E7B1-C430-922B507420F26114

You will need to enter your user name (your email address) and create a password to view the tender.

ACCAN looks forward to the outcome of the tender process, and hopes it will deliver real benefits for people with disability. We plan to issue an update on this fact sheet once the successful bid is announced.