National Relay Service upgrade improves lives of people with disability

[box border=”full”]Australians who are Deaf, hearing or speech impaired will now be able to live more independently thanks to two new communications services.[/box]

Deaf Australians can for the first time contact friends and family or services by making a video call in their first language, Auslan, via the National Relay Service (NRS). The message is then interpreted into English and spoken to the recipient by the NRS operator, who signs responses back to the caller.

Additionally, when Deaf Australians are out and about and need to contact a person or service that doesn’t use SMS, they can now send a text message to the NRS, which will relay the message to the recipient by voice. Responses are then sent back via SMS.

“This is a huge improvement in the lives of people who are Deaf, hearing or speech impaired,” said ACCAN disability policy advisor Wayne Hawkins.

“With the new SMS service, if a Deaf, hearing or speech impaired person is running late for a doctor’s appointment they can now simply send an SMS which will get relayed to the doctor. Many people don’t understand that something as simple as this was previously out of reach for Deaf Australians, so this improvement is really encouraging,” said Mr Hawkins.

While SMS relay can provide access to emergency services via the NRS, ACCAN says it is important that it is used along with other methods of contacting emergency services, such as asking someone nearby to call 000.

“SMS technology is not as reliable as a teletypewriter 106 call (fixed line call) or internet relay calls, as you don’t actually know that somebody has seen your SMS. This is not direct communication with 000 and people need to understand that,” said Mr Hawkins.

Karen Lloyd, executive officer at Deaf Australia, said the new additions to the NRS would be of great benefit to the Deaf community.

“The inclusion of these new services in the NRS is an exciting step forward in making telecommunications more accessible for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment,” she said.

The NRS is provided by the not-for-profit Australian Communications Exchange under contract to the Australian Government. The new video relay service will be available Monday to Friday between the hours of 7am and 6pm EST.

More information about the services can be found at