Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 12:04 UK

Deaf call for better phone access


SignVideo's Tish Kerfoot has real-time phone calls with fully-hearing people via the video interpretation service

Deaf people are lobbying politicians in the UK for greater access to technology that helps them use the phone.

A mass lobby of MPs is being carried out using the same technology to which deaf people want improved access.

These systems use different means to turn sign language or text into speech to support a phone conversation.

"We want to keep pace with technology," said Ruth Myers, chair of the TAG consortium that is co-ordinating the day of protests.

Lower price

The TAG consortium includes the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the British Deaf Association, Hearing Concern, Sense, and many others.

Added Ms Myers: "We want equality in education, training, the workplace and as consumers and citizens in the information society."

The mass lobby takes place on 3 April and aims to get politicians thinking about ways to help deaf people get at the technology.

Ms Myers said many deaf people still struggled to make good use of the telephone.

She said: "They are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain equality with the rest of society, educationally and professionally."

There are several different ways that technology can help deaf people chat via the phone:

  • Captioned telephony - this uses two communication channels and speech recognition software to convert a relay operator's voice into text that is then read by a deaf caller
  • Video relay - employs webcams to allow a deaf person to use sign language to communicate through an operator
  • Text relay - this allows deaf people to type a message that an operator reads out on their behalf

Captioned relay, TAG
New technologies can help deaf people make better use of the phone

TAG is calling on the government for funding to give deaf people greater access to these technologies.

At the moment, the service conditions for telecommunications firms laid down by Ofcom only demand that a text relay service be offered. These regulations only apply to BT and Kingston Communications.

These systems have flourished in the US and Australia but a lack of funds has forced most similar services in the UK to close down.

In the UK, deaf people wanting to use the phone can turn to the RNID's text relay system or the SignVideo video relay system run by Significan't.

The SignVideo system is being widely used in the mass lobby and marks the start of a TAG campaign to update communications for deaf people.

"New types of phone relay systems using technologies like video communications and the internet can dramatically improve telecommunications for deaf people," said Ms Myers in a statement. "But the powers-that-be are dragging their feet in enabling their use by deaf and hard-of-hearing people at an affordable price."

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