Save the NRS

My first ever phone call on the National Relay Service (NRS) was at work. At the time I was working with Disability South Australia, then known as Options Coordination. I worked in the physical and neurological area. My job was to basically assess and then broker care plans for people with a disability, including technology. There were a lot of private service providers of care. My first call was to Jeanne. She ran a nursing home and also provided care in peoples homes. So through the NRS we negotiated a package for a client and arranged for a meeting. After the meeting we went to the pub and had a chat. This was the start of a very brief romantic interlude. That was the power of the NRS. For the first time I could call hearing people on the phone.  I could use the phone to call hearing people who did not have a TTY. This created enormous opportunities for me, both professionally and socially.

For people not in the know the NRS is a service that allows deaf people to contact hearing people via the phone. When it first started deaf people who had a TTY could call hearing people through the NRS. Basically a third person based at the NRS would receive the typed message from the deaf caller and voice it to the hearing person. What the hearing person said they would then type it to the deaf person. In this way a conversation occurred.

Before the NRS the only option a deaf person had was to either have a friend or family member relay messages or to call other people who also had a TTY. With the advent of the NRS deaf people could now work in jobs that required the phone. They could call for a pizza. They could call for a taxi and so on. It was a life changer that opened up a multitude of doors for deaf people.

This was in 1995 and the world has since changed greatly. Now deaf people have enormous telecommunications choices. They can text people. They can text chat with people in real time. They can video chat too. Many services now have a text chat feature where people can contact them and chat about the services and products that they provide. You can send online queries. You can order pizza online. You can book plane tickets, cars and holidays  online through any number of apps. And of course we have trusty email. Many of the things we used the NRS for in yesteryear we deaf people can now do independently.

In fact there is a level of loathing for the NRS. Not because it is a bad thing. More because deaf people now cherish the independence that they have. The NRS, for many, is now a service of last resort. When all the options we have at our finger tips fail the NRS is there.

It might be that your car  has broken down and you need assistance. It is true that RACV have an SMS service for this  but not all drivers are members. Many people have 24 hour roadside assistance with their car purchase. This means these deaf people have to call through the NRS. Tradies generally have to be contacted by the NRS when a pipe blows or a window breaks. Most goods and services, including hospitals, still require you to call. Mind you some GPs actually have online bookings now. The NRS still has a place and a very important one at that. That said one would imagine that the demand for it has reduced over the years owing to the wealth of technological options at the disposal of deaf people.

The Government has recognised this. They think that because deaf people now have this greater telecommunications independence that the NRS is less important. The Government wants the NRS to be scaled back and for deaf people to use the other solutions as much as they can. I do not think this is a bad thing.  Savvy Deaf people who are able to use technology to their advantage are the ones most likely to be successful. However, the Government is considering making the NRS a part time service.  They are considering scrapping the 24 hour service. This is where my support ends.

It is really simple. Deaf people do not live part-time lives. They are busy and productive people. Like everyone, especially in today’s world, they need ready and easy access to communication. When your car breaks down this can be at any time. When a pipe bursts this can be at any time. People cannot predict when communication will be needed. For this very simple reason deaf people need a 24 hour NRS.

God forbid if  your car breaks down at 4am in the morning. Oh bugger, just sleep in the car  until the NRS opens at 9 am. Be late for work, lose your job and inconvenience everyone. That is OK because, you see, the NRS is shut. Having the NRS available for anything less than 24 hours is a ridiculous idea. It is not rocket science. Let’s hope the Government wakes up on this one.

The Government has also completely cut Outreach services. Outreach for the NRS basically provided information to the wider public about how the NRS works. It was certainly greatly needed in the early stages of the NRS. We deaf people will all have experienced people hanging up on us  when we were using the NRS. Often it is  because the person we called thought it was telemarketers or something. People hanging up on NRS calls is still common but much less now. That is a testament to the success of the Outreach program.

One could argue that the need for Outreach is much less now. Certainly the Government think so because they have scrapped it altogether.  Arguably Outreach is needed now as much as ever. Especially so if the Government wants more people utilising the technology that they have rather than the NRS.

Outreach could serve a purpose to educate deaf people of the options. It could serve a purpose of educating the wider business community as to how they can adapt their business and services so that communication with deaf people is more accessible. It is very short sighted to do away with Outreach altogether. Rather we should be looking at how Outreach can be targeted better.

I can understand why our Government is looking to scale back the NRS because there are so many innovative telecommunications options available to deaf people now. That said, the NRS is still a critical service. People need it for work, emergencies, arranging services and a whole host of things. Sure we need it less but we are a long way from needing it less than 24 hours a day. Maybe the aim is to make the NRS redundant in 20 years but we are a long way from that now.

Here is hoping that the Government wakes up to this one.




I thought that I would start this article a little bit differently. The video that you have just watched inspired me. It inspired me because it made me realise that deaf education is behind the times. So what I have done is I have written the first paragraph entirely using voice recognition technology. What you see is word for word what the voice recognition technology on my phone produced. But I am a rarity. I, you see, am iDeaf.

What is iDeaf ?  Put simply iDeaf is an informed and proficient deaf person. It is a deaf person that knows how to interact with the world. It is a deaf person that understands and utilises all of the many technological solutions at hand that will enhance their interaction with the world, socially and economically. It is a deaf person that knows how to use interpreters. It is a deaf person that knows how to use live remote captioning. It is a deaf person that knows how to adapt to any number of situations, particularly when captions or interpreters cannot be had. It is a deaf person that can use the simple mobile phone in a way to beat down many of the barriers that this deaf and disability unfriendly world presents to them. In short the iDeaf person has all the tools that they need to tackle this deaf unfriendly world of ours.

I loved the part of this video where the lawyer uses posters to demonstrate how things have changed. He shows a photo of a smart phone and then a picture of what phones were like  a hundred years ago. He shows a picture of a modern streamlined car and then a picture of what was probably an old Model T Ford. His point is that we have progressed. Things have become better, efficient and more streamlined. He then shows a picture of a modern classroom and compares it with a classroom of yesteryear. Virtually nothing has changed.

Still kids are seated at desks. Still they are in rows. Still the teacher is out the front and writing on the board. No matter that it is a white board, it is still a board. It is true that other things have been incorporated into schools like computers and technology but teaching and the classroom set up remain relatively unchanged.

What is his point? His point is that we are short changing our kids. We are under-funding education. We are underpaying teachers. We are lacking in innovation. His point is that mostly education strategies have not moved with the times. The result? Our kids are woefully under-prepared for life.

This made me think about Deaf Education. Has it changed? Has it kept up with the times? Are we preparing our Deaf kids for this modern world so that they can compete? The simple answer to this is NO! Few of our Deaf kids are iDeaf!

“Let’s ignore the fact that the Education Department thinks that hearing is everything. Let’s ignore that they think a deaf kid that is doing OK is enough .

Today I met a mother of a deaf girl. The mother had tried to get her daughters school, a mainstream school, to provide her daughter with a classroom interpreter or communication aid. She had been refused by the Education Department. The Education Department claim that her daughter hears well enough with her cochlear implant and Phonak device. Therefore no other support is required.

Let’s ignore the fact that the Education Department thinks that hearing is everything. Let’s ignore that they think a deaf kid that is doing OK is enough. Let’s ignore for a moment that providing support to the deaf girl so that she can meet her absolute potential is her right. Whatever way you look at this case it will make you angry.

I asked the mother if they had discussed the possibility of using live remote captions in class to facilitate communication and  improve the girls English. “Whats that?” asked the mother. It had simply never been considered or discussed. Who is preparing this girl for life as as an adult? Indeed, does teacher of the deaf training teach new teachers of the deaf anything about technology and innovation that can support deaf kids? Beyond listening devices that is. Who can help this girl to become iDeaf?

” Well the solution may just lie with the humble smart phone and the voice recognition technology within.

Let me give you a simple but effective example. Deaf Gaz has been pulled over by a policeman. Policeman rocks up at his window with big bushy beard. Unlipreadable!!!!  It becomes clear very quickly that Deaf Gaz is not going to understand him at all. What next?  Well the solution may just lie with the humble smart phone and the voice recognition technology within.

What you see below is a word for word mock conversation I had with my son Fin. I used my very cheap OPPA phone that is given free with a $40 plan. I switched on the voice recognition technology on the keyboard. This was the result.

Gaz: Hi Fin I was the soccer (“I” should be “how”)

Fin: yeah not bad

Gaz: and do you have a game on Saturday

Fin: I do

Gaz: where are you playing at

Fin: Blackburn

Gaz: you said that you hurt yourself what did you do

Fin: and you’re my ankle (He said, “I hurt my ankle”)

Gaz: how did you do that

Fin: twisted it I will look after it

Forgive Fin. He is a teenager and talking beyond a grunt is hard for him. But I mean how good is this? You could use this at the doctor if you wanted to make sure you understand what the Doc is saying. Or may be you’re in the back of an ambulance and they are trying to work out if you have any medical conditions so that they don’t inject you with something that will kill you. Trusty old mobile to the rescue. But how many deafies know how to do this? How many kids are learning about and practicing simple solutions like this? How many iDeaf are there out there?

She asked me how I could make these teleconferences accessible. Lucky that I am iDeaf.

Just this week my boss said teleconferences are returning. You know we deafies hate teleconferences. Bastard things that they are. Work tends to just organise them and then gets  some poor sod to sit next to me and type frantically what people are saying. It is far from satisfactory. I have no input and the poor typist is so stressed worrying that they are not keeping up that they cannot contribute either. Typically and frequently the poor typist can’t keep up and I miss heaps of information. But thankfully I have a new manager who is switched on. She asked me how I could make these teleconferences accessible. Lucky that I am iDeaf.

The solution is quite simple. What we can do is use the Gotomeeting platform. This is basically just conferencing software where people can chat to each other, see each other or text chat to each other. So what we can do is get all the people who are part of the teleconference to all log in to the same meeting and have Bradley Reporting caption it for us.

If you are an Auslan user you can use Auslan Services to interpret for you. As I speak I can just use captioning and take part in the teleconference like everyone else. Auslan users could use the interpreter to voice back. Admittedly it takes a bit more coordination to use the Auslan interpreter but it is possible. I know this because I am iDeaf.  It would look something like below:


This is the new world of the deaf professional. At their finger tips are a myriad of communication solutions. Sometimes they are sophisticated like Gotomeeting. Sometimes as simple as Facebook messenger. Sometimes it is just emails and Skype. It is a far cry from when I started work in 1989 and there was not even a National Relay Service. Email? – Oh don’t be silly!

It’s not just technology that deaf people must know either. They need to know how to explain their needs. How to educate others. They need to know about their rights. They need to know how to sell these solutions at a job interview. You can bet your bottom dollar that their possible employer to be wont know. Because they do not know this possible employer is already finding ways to not employ them. The iDeaf person is sharp, articulate and assertive.

The question we need to ask is ARE DEAF KIDS LEARNING THIS AT SCHOOL? Are new teachers of the deaf learning this as part of their training. Or are these new teachers simply learning a couple of weeks of Auslan, maintaining hearing aids. audiograms and speech?

Clearly there is much that the modern day deaf kid needs to learn beyond the curriculum. Are they learning this at school so that they are ready for the world? I don’t think so. We are developing a whole generation of just deaf kids with no i. They are expected to use whatever hearing they have to get by. This is not the way. It is time to graduate them iDeaf!