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Deaf Access to the Telephone

Telephone relay services have made a huge difference in enabling deaf people to access the telephone network, but deaf people risk being disconnected by advances in technology. Modern relay services are the only way to overcome this.

The Government has called on the industry to work with deaf consumers and come forward with solutions which meet deaf people’s needs.

That is why UKCoD is working with our members and with Government and industry to ensure that the next generation of relay services provides equivalent access to the telephone network.

Why are telephone relay services needed?

In a world in which technology is changing rapidly, deaf people need access to telecommunications in the same way as hearing people, and that means almost live, real time communication.

Who uses telephone relay services?

Deaf people use relay services; whether written and spoken English, or a tactile method is the preferred mode of communication, or if British Sign Language (BSL) is the first language – all need to be supported by relay services.

What are telephone relay services?

Text Relay enables deaf and hearing people to connect on the telephone, via an operator. In the UK, a BT Next Generation Text service offers a number of improvements to previous relay provision, including:

  • The ability to use a variety of mainstream devices – desktops / laptops / tablets / smart phones for the text part of the call
  • Textphone users will get a new text number, linked to their phone number, so that the network recognises the call as a text call – removing the need for anyone calling a textphone user to have the 18002 prefix

NGT is a service delivered by BT, and available to all. Information on the service can be found at

Captioned telephony could be described as a telephone call with subtitles. The audio from both users is sent in the same way as a standard telephone call but the audio from the voice telephone user is also sent as text via an assistant and a speech recognition program. Captioned telephony is not available in the UK.

Video relay enables sign language users to communicate on the telephone through a sign language interpreter. For explanations of video relay service in action, see Sign video in action on the news. Over 200 organisations, public and private, provide VRS as a way of contacting them.

What are we asking for?

Deaf people want to make the same use of telephones as the rest of the population.

That means real time calls, at no extra cost to the user, with services available at all times, that meet the varied communication needs of deaf people, across both mobile and landline networks.

What are the Government and regulators doing?

Ofcom published a statement in 2012 detailing how the next generation of text relay services (NGTR) will be provided in the UK. BT have now launched an NGT service, available to all.

Ed Vaizey MP, Communications Minister has made a number of direct requests to the industry to engage with deaf consumers and come forward with solutions for the provision of VRS. DAC is working with a number of organisations to respond to these requests.

Get involved

If you have further questions please contact UKCoD.

If you want to join the campaign or find out more about the issues and what deaf consumers are doing about them then sign up here.

Follow the conversation @deafaccesscomms or on Facebook.

NDCS factsheet on different types of relay services