Page last updated at 00:48 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 01:48 UK

Deaf people lobby MPs over phones

Captioned relay phone system
Campaigners say phone technology for deaf people is falling behind

Deaf campaigners fighting for equal access to the telephone are lobbying MPs at a reception in Parliament.

Consortium group TAG said deaf people were being held back in their jobs and lives because phone technology was no longer easily available or affordable.

Chairman Ruth Myers said it was vital services keep pace with technology.

Deaf people can communicate using phone systems which either turn speech into text and vice versa or use sign language interpreters via video link.

Another system called captioned telephony, which uses speech recognition technology to convert an operator’s voice into text, closed in December for funding reasons.

Ms Myers said: "No-one can participate fully in today’s fast-moving society without easy and affordable access to the telephone.

Text relay - allows deaf people to type a message an operator reads out on their behalf
Video relay - employs webcams to allow people to use sign language to communicate via an operator
Captioned telephony - uses speech recognition software to convert a relay operator's voice into text that can be read by a deaf caller

"Much better access has been shown to be within grasp, but most of the services that deliver it have folded because they are too expensive for deaf individuals."

TAG's reception for MPs is being held at Portcullis House under its campaign Bringing Deaf Telecoms into the 21st Century.

The group represents all the main UK deaf organisations concerned with telecoms and broadcasting.

Alan Goldsmith, a European quality manager for a global chemical company, used captioned telephony in the UK until the service closed.

He told BBC News: "About five years ago, I learned about captioned telephony and it far exceeded my expectations.

"Not only could I assess emotions in the call, I could also participate in conference calls - something I could not do previously with the old-style relay service.

This is an increasing and unintended form of discrimination that must be rectified
Malcolm Bruce MP
“All my European work colleagues contacting me by phone thought my hearing had returned!

“To say I miss captioned telephony is an understatement -I'm convinced it has helped my career progress.”

Malcolm Bruce MP - the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness - is hosting the reception.

He said: “Four decades after telephones became commonplace in British households, many deaf people still struggle to use the telephone network and some cannot use it at all.

“Deaf people are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain social, educational and professional equality with the rest of society.

“Modernised phone relay systems can dramatically improve their telecommunications, but the powers that be are dragging their feet in ensuring they are available and affordable.

"This is an increasing and unintended form of discrimination that must be rectified."

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