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Telecommunications: Hearing Impaired

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will direct Ofcom to take steps to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing people have (a) equal access to mobile and internet telecommunication services and (b) access to modernised relay services. (254297)

[holding answer 9 February 2009]: Within its existing remit in this area, Ofcom has stated that it would like to see the introduction of additional relay services and have commissioned a study into the social and economic benefits of such services. It is important that the approach reflects current and emerging technology and this study is examining the gap between services that are currently available (including the existing relay service, SMS, instant messaging and email) and potential services. The study will consider the existing relay service Text direct (also known as Type Talk which allows two way telephone conversations between deaf or speech impaired people), captioned telephony (where the relay assistant re-voices one end of the call into captions using speech recognition technology), Video relay (which enables sign language users to communicate with hearing people in real time, using a sign language interpreter based remotely) and internet protocol access to text relay (which would enable people to have fixed and mobile access to text relay via a PC with an internet connection, removing the need for specialist terminal equipment).

The European legislation that establishes the objectives of member state regulation in this area is currently being reviewed. The Government have supported efforts to strengthen the obligations on member states in this area to achieve results that are practical use to disabled users. Our response to the public consultation on the review of the EU legislation noted

“There was universal recognition that disabled users should not be excluded from being able to enjoy the benefits of a modern telecommunications sector where economic technical solutions existed.”