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March 8, 2003

Mobile advances mean deaf can't call for help

From: The Age, Australia - 08 Mar 2003

By Chee Chee Leung

The deaf, speech and hearing-impaired communities are being denied access to emergency services, the operator of the telephone typewriter system has warned.

Since 2000, when the mobile phone network adopted digital technology, telephone typewriters (TTY) have not been able to access text on mobile phones. This includes 106, the TTY equivalent of the emergency 000 number.

The Australian Communication Exchange, which operates the National Relay Service - a bridge between TTY users and the wider community - said there could be severe consequences unless urgent action was taken.

"No one wants to wait until someone has a serious injury or accident until we do something," said chief executive officer Len Bytheway.

In 2001-02, there were 12.67 million mobile phones, in Australia compared with 11.4 million fixed-line telephones; Mr Bytheway said this meant that more than half of the telephones were inaccessible to TTY users.

Australian Association of the Deaf president Robert Adam described the current system as an "inequitable state of affairs" for the more than 16,000 deaf people across the country.

"I know of people who have been stranded and unable to contact NRMA or other emergency services and having to rely on SMS-ing or a hearing person to make the call," he said.

"Deaf people do not have the same mobility as do hearing people in making phone calls. Deaf people cannot continue using Stone Age technology."

A spokesman for the Communication Aid Users Society, which represents Victorians with speech impairments, said there was a "real need, and a fast one" to tackle the issue.

Copyright © 2003 The Age Company Ltd