What’s happening? Life as we deafies know it is under threat. First it was the threat to NABS that prompted the save NABS petition from Deaf Australia which was discussed in the last Rebuttal published just two days ago. Now an email has hit my desktop screaming UNCERTAINTY FOR THE NATIONAL RELAY SERVICE!!! (NRS)
Does the government have it in for us deafies or something???? The National Relay Service, for those that do not know, is the service that people who are deaf utilise when they need to make calls to hearing people and organisations but cannot do so through the usual voice channels.
The email from the Conexu Foundation appears to have been distributed to relevant stakeholders and consumers that are part of their data base. It basically outlines the discussions that the Government is having about the future of the NRS. The Government is embarking on a consultation process to review the operation of the NRS. The aim, say the Government, is to ensure a sustainable future for the NRS.
The heading of the email screaming UNCERTAINTY is probably a ploy by Conexu to grab the readers attention. On closer inspection there does not appear any uncertainty. Rather there are a number of suggestions from the Government that will raise alarm bells in some people. It is important to remember that the Government is only consulting at this point and has put forward some options for people to consider.
Personally I find some of these suggestions a bit unpalatable, even scary. That said, kudos to the Government for preparing a consultation process that appears to be very transparent and allows people to comment and even suggest alternatives. The discussion paper is quite well researched and provides some interesting data and suggestions. It is well worth a read. You can take a look at the discussion and consultation papers by clicking HERE. My one criticism is that there is so little time to respond. Less than a month now.
Conexu have kindly summarised a few of the points that arose in the Governments discussion paper. The Government raised 8 options with different questions like:
Should any services be capped? (The paper states that the video relay service, used by people who are Deaf, is capped now.) –
I can imagine that this will scare the Bejayzus out of some people, and it should. Simple answer, from my point of view, is that nothing should be capped. We deafies have a right to access the phone whenever and in the same way as hearing people. Even if the Video Relay Is capped now, it should not be. For me this is the strong message that deafies need to convey to this question.
Should TTY access be phased out?
This will be controversial. The young ones among us, and even older ones like me, never use a TTY. I don’t have one at work or at home. Mobile technology and internet access has made the TTY nearly obsolete. Even so there may be some older deafies among us that still utilise the TTY. Should they be denied access? Of course not, especially when this may be one of the few avenues they have to communicate to the outside world. My view is that TTY relay should remain. However, I can see that this is going to be challenged.
Are apps and smartphones or tablets now preferred, or are there situations when the NRS is a better option?
I think we all love the independence that apps and smartphones have brought to us. However, there are situations where even the latest technology will not give us access to telecommunications. Indeed within the paper the Government has probably answered this question itself. Data shows that the use of the NRS has continued to increase to this very day.
Should regulations that are in place for disability equipment programs be removed?
Who remembers the joy we all experienced when Scott (or was it Stott) won his case against Telstra so that they had to provide a TTY as part of phone rental in same way as hearing people rented handsets? Prior to that we were forking out $6-800 to buy a TTY. A small fortune back in the early nineties. Come to think of it, it still is for many people.
The discussion paper describes the equipment subsidy schemes that are being offered by Telstra and Optus. It raises the question whether these can be phased out or reduced given that many deafies may be able to purchase this equipment through the NDIS. This may well be so, but what of those that do not qualify for the NDIS. Do we need a safety net for them? A few things to consider here.
The discussion paper also raises questions about how the NRS will be funded and how much should be funded by the Telcos. A large proportion, if not all, of the NRS is funded by a levy that Telcos pay to the Government for the provision of the NRS. I did not make a lot of sense of what the paper was suggesting but I urge people to read this part of the discussion carefully and ensure they understand the options that the Government is proposing.
So is the NRS under threat? I don’t think so, not yet anyway. I actually think the review of the NRS is a good thing. Changes in the delivery of telecommunications and advances in technology has meant that the playing field has changed. The Government acknowledges this in its paper.
However, its important that as many people respond to the consultation as possible. Contact Conexu, Deaf Australia or Deafness Forum Australia to ask how you can have your views heard. But you only have less than a month, so be quick!
Deaf Australia – firstname.lastname@example.org
Deafness Forum Australia – email@example.com
Conexu – firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE – The Governments discussion paper does not appear to have an Auslan version. It would appear vital that one be developed quickly for the Deaf community.