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Government Welcomes Deaf Relay Service Finding

15 April 2002

Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson and Communications Minister Paul Swain have welcomed the Human Rights Commission's finding that the telecommunications industry should provide a relay service for people who are Deaf, or who have hearing or speech impairments.

A voice/text relay service enables people with disabilities to converse using a teletypewriter (TTY) to type text, which an intermediary converts into conversation for the person at the other end, and back again.

Ruth Dyson said one of Labour's pre-election promises was to 'ensure that telecommunications providers fulfil their human rights obligations and provide access to services that meet needs'.

"People need access to conventional telephone services not only in an emergency, but in order to participate fully in the community, which is a fundamental principle of the New Zealand Disability Strategy," she said.

"The commission's finding that failure to provide a voice/text relay service constitutes discrimination under the Human Rights Act adds considerable weight to our efforts to resolve this issue."

Paul Swain said the government had been considering the most effective way to provide a relay service for some time, including during development of the Telecommunications Act. Initial consultation had already occurred with telecommunications providers and other interested parties.

"Most telecommunications providers agree in principle with the provision of a relay service, but there is debate over whose responsibility it should be to fund the setting-up costs and the teletypewriter equipment."

Mr Swain said the government was considering whether the relay service should be declared a telecommunications service obligation (TSO), thereby requiring the industry to provide the service. He said a final decision would be made shortly.


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