A Response from the National Relay Service to the Third Person

From Sean Kidney, National Relay Service Outreach

The Rebuttal thanks Sean for his response. We felt it was important that it be seen by as many people as possible. Hence we have made Sean’s response into an official post.

I came across your post recently. Reasonable concerns, but I think I need to correct a few misconceptions …

1. First, NRS usage – relay service usage is actually pretty stable. There was small drop in usage in 2005-06, but since then overall numbers have climbed a little. While it’s probably right that lots of people now use SMS, email and MSN rather than the NRS, this seems to have been balanced by more people using the NRS to contact services that aren’t easily accessible through these newer technologies.

2. There has been a change in types of NRS usage, basically as a result of the launch of internet relay some 18 months ago. Over 20% of NRS calls have now shifted to the internet, and the numbers keep growing. This suggests that lots of people would rather use PCs than TTYs for calls. The other growth has been with people using “Speak and Read” – those who speak their side of a call and who read the response on their TTY. The growth in this group reflects increased usage among older people with an acquired hearing impairment, a high-need group that has in the past not known much about the NRS. They are often people (mainly due to their age) who have never learnt to type or don’t want to, so being able to speak into the handset (only available via an NRS call) is a real plus for them.

3. Your key point was about what the NRS has been saying about TTYs. The NRS has indeed been telling some organisations to consider using the NRS rather than TTYs – that’s because we have found in surveying businesses and government agencies over the past two years that many are not offering a functional TTY service. The TTY is either disconnected, or it is not answered, or there are no staff specially trained to take calls on the TTY. On top of that, the TTY is usually located in a contact centre or reception area and the person answering it can’t provide the info being requested, or the service required. For example, someone rings a bank call centre wanting to enquire about a loan, but the loans department doesn’t have a TTY, just the main contact centre. So the TTY caller can’t get the info required via a TTY. Businesses and agencies may advertise a TTY line – but in most cases it is not functioning in an adequate manner with a commitment to staff, train and respond to it adequately.

We’re not advising businesses abandon their TTYs, where this is a genuine and functioning TTY service. However, where it isn’t (which is most of the time), we’re suggesting that the businesses take their responsibility to the Deaf/hearing-impaired/speech-impaired community seriously and ensure they’re resourced and skilled to be able to provide their services via the NRS. We’re not trying to reduce accessibility to services, but rather trying to ensure that what accessibility IS being offered is genuine, functioning, efficient and meeting legal obligations. Ensuring that organisations are “NRS-friendly” improves customer access for members of the Deaf community – both those who depend on TTYs and the growing number of internet relay users.

4. The aim at the National Relay Service is to maximise access to telephone communications for the three groups specified in the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Services) Act – people who are Deaf, people with an acquired hearing impairment (there are some 400,000 of these in Australia), and people with a speech impairment.

There may well come a time when the NRS is not needed; that would be wonderful, because it would mean better options have been developed.

But, in the meantime, although people use SMS and MSN for communication with others who are Deaf, the NRS is pretty useful for talking to people who aren’t Deaf and who don’t use SMS – that’s most services, doctors, potential employers and even Thai takeways (at least until you negotiate for them to accept your SMS orders).

And by the way, you can use MSN to make a relay call to any of these services from a PC or a mobile.


Sean Kidney
National Relay Service Outreach

3 thoughts on “A Response from the National Relay Service to the Third Person

  1. A comment to the original post had noted that the TTY directory was no longer available. FYR, Telstra used to publish it, but about 18 months, not to publish it any longer. Not sure why. NRS used to advertise in it, but obviously can’t anymore.

  2. Sean. Your are correct. Telstra use to manage the TTY Directory and then I think it was handled by Sensis who looks after the white and yellow pages. But there appears to have been a decision made to not continue with this publication. Dont know whether the Deaf/hard of hearing community (let alone our advocacy groups) were consulted with this or that it was a commericial decision made by management. In any case the TTY directory has often been a useful resource for people wanting direct contact with an organisation that has a TTY installed. Now this appears to be no longer available it is very much like taking away (let alone not publishing) the white pages from hearing people. I think people have yet to realise that by removing things such as the TTY directory we are gradually restricting our communication options for people with a disability. Have they ever considered that perhaps a Deaf / HI person may prefer to have a direct TTY conversation (including speak and read) rather than via the NRS?

  3. In February 2007, Deafness Forum was approached by Sensis, asking
    “- what sort of directory information is wanted by the deaf and hearing impaired community – and in what format, and
    – to get an understanding of which directories deaf and hearing impaired people most often use when looking for business, government and residential details.”

    We asked our members these questions in February 2007, and it is my understanding that a number of other organisations were also approached and asked the same questions.

    Based on feedback from our members, we suggested that a separate directory was no longer required, but TTY numbers should be integrated in the standard phone book, ie an integrated, inclusive approach rather than a separate directory. In fact, the major issue identified by our members was the length of time it took to update details in the TTY directory, an issue that may be better handled through the white pages with its updated version each year.

    We do not put forward views other than those we receive from our members. Since that was the view of our membership, that is what we passed on to Sensis. If people have other views but do not provide them to us, we cannot channel their thoughts telepathically.

    It is my understanding the TTY customers were to get a letter explaining that decision and the new approach – again, not sure if that occurred but that is what Sensis said was going to happen.

    So now you will see TTY numbers listed in white pages both hard copy and on internet

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