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Telephone Services: Hearing Impaired

Volume 493: debated on Monday 1 June 2009

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what steps Ofcom plans to take to enable deaf and hard of hearing people and sign language users to use the proposed pan-European 116 helpline numbers. (275432)

[holding answer 14 May 2009]: Ofcom have recently moved to Stage Two of a comparative selection process for the first three harmonised, pan-European 116 numbers for services of social value. At this stage—in a detailed assessment of applicants—Ofcom will be looking at how the bidding organisations address equality and diversity issues in their own workplaces, and how they will address equality and diversity in both relationships with callers and in promoting the services they offer. Bidding service provider (SP)/communications provider (CP) partnerships will also be required at this stage of the scrutiny to present on how they will handle calls from non-English speakers and citizens who cannot communicate effectively through the spoken word. The selection advisory committee can also stipulate and monitor conditions attached to the allocation and use of the number that will ensure ease of accessibility for all potential users of the service.

Ofcom published a response to the public consultation on allocation and charging for 116 numbers in the UK—which included representations from the deaf, hard of hearing and sign language user communities. This response, including an Impact and Equality assessment, is available on their website. Separately, Ofcom has recently launched a consultation “Access and Inclusion” which commits “to ensuring that disabled people can access communications services on an equivalent basis to others and propose to work to tackle the most critical issues that they face. This will include assessing the policy case for improving the existing text relay service”.