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December 8, 2002

We don't get deals, say deaf mobile phone users

From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - 8 Dec 2002

By Daniel Dasey, Consumer Reporter
December 8 2002
The Sun-Herald

Phone companies could be sued for discrimination because some mobile plans disadvantage the deaf, a report claims.

A discussion paper prepared by lobby group the Australian Association of the Deaf (AAD) says the hearing impaired are among the most avid users of text messaging, sending 10 times as many messages as people with hearing.

But they miss out on special deals given to other mobile customers - such as free calls at night - because they are unable to make regular calls and there are often no corresponding text messaging discounts.

Deaf groups are proposing companies give them an equivalent amount of free short messaging service (SMS) use.

"Telecommunications companies need to act quickly to ensure that deaf people are able to send SMS messages free from mobiles with the same network, as is provided to hearing people for off-peak services," the AAD report says.

"Failure to do so may trigger discrimination complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992."

Mobile carrier Vodafone is in conciliation with AAD president Robert Adam after he approached the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission with a complaint about the company's pricing.

The AAD report states that anecdotal evidence suggests deaf people are using SMS at 10 times the rate of the general community. Some deaf people interviewed were sending more than 300 SMS messages a month.

The report found the advent of text messaging gave deaf people greater freedom and independence and was generally economical.

Because the matter is yet to be settled Mr Adam and Vodafone declined to talk in detail about the action.

A Vodafone customer since 1999, Mr Adam was in a plan that offered $17 a month in free voice calls that he was unable to use.

When the company abolished such offers at the end of 2001, he asked for a refund of unused voice calls. The company offered him a $120 discount on his account. But Mr Adam said the offer did not address the overall problem faced by deaf people.

A Vodafone spokeswoman said: "We are in conciliation and are hopeful of an amicable result." She said while there may be some residual contracts offering free calls, Vodafone now charged only for services used and all new customers received the same options.

The AAD singled out Telstra as one phone company that provided special mobile packages for the deaf.

An Optus spokeswoman said customers could chose freely between contract incentives such as free calls, free SMS and wireless internet access.

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald.