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November 16, 2004

Phone calls made easier for the deaf

From: - New Zealand - Nov 16, 2004


The launch of a new communication system will make phone calls easier for the deaf, the hard of hearing and those with a speech disability.

Students and staff of Van Asch College participated in the launch of NZ Relay with a call to Parliament, where about 200 people watched the message on a large screen.

The relay system, which is free, means calls can be made to a hearing person who does not have a text telephone (TTY) and vice-versa.

Some people will be able to make calls they have not been able to before.

Janet Stokes, a language assistant at Van Asch, was thrilled to see the service launched.

"I can phone my Gran for the first time in my life," she said.

Marie O'Brien, associate principal of Van Asch, said the launch was an important and historic event for the deaf community. "There is general rejoicing," she said.

To use the service, the deaf caller rings NZ Relay and types their message to a phone operator.

The operator (relay assistant) then speaks the message to the receiver. The receiver speaks back to the operator, who then types the message for the deaf person to read.

The service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and may soon be available through the internet.

It is the first real-time service of its kind to be offered in New Zealand.

It was announced by the Government in May 2002 that such a service would be provided as a Telecommunications Service Order (TSO) under the Telecommunications Act 2001.

The service provider is a US-based telecommunications firm called Sprint Relay and the call centre is operated by Counties Power, in Auckland.

© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2004.