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Telecom Breaching The Human Rights Act

Released by Victoria Manning, complainant.

Telecom is discriminating against deaf and speech-impaired people by failing to provide a "relay service" which would allow them to use the telephone, the Human Rights Commission has found.

After seven years of consideration, the Commission decided that Telecom is in breach of the Human Rights Act 1993, but have decided not to refer the case to the court.

"This is a landmark case which has the potential to establish a human rights benchmark for disabled people," said Victoria Manning, one of the two original complainants.

A relay service, an intermediary call centre which converts live speech to text and vice versa, would allow deaf and speech-impaired people to call anyone. The deaf person converses by text on a TTY (teletypewriter) or using a computer modem and at the other end an ordinary telephone receiver is used. The operator transcribes the live conversation.

Australia’s relay service has been running for seven years. England, America and Canada established their relay services in the mid to late 1980's.

"While we are happy with the Commission's final decision, we are discouraged that it has taken seven years to determine that our human rights are being breached. It is frustrating now that a remedy remains out of sight".

The Commission's final decision raises problems around pursuing settlement in this complex case.

Telecom, Telstra-Clear and Vodafone have been unable to reach agreement on establishing an industry-wide voice/text relay service that will give speech- and hearing impaired New Zealanders access to the telephone.

The Human Rights Commission is calling for Government to require the telecommunications industry to provide a voice/text relay service under the Telecommunications Act 2001.

Lack of a Relay Service affects more than a million people daily in New Zealand. "A relay service will also mean that anyone can make a phone call to a deaf or speech-impaired person. All telephone users can benefit from a relay service," Ms Manning said.


Contact: Victoria Manning
Text Msgs: 021 347 710
Fax: 021 632 138
Wk ph: (04) 463 6070 (messages)
Email: Victoria.Manning@vuw.ac.nz

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