The National Relay Service has launched new technology which will allow Australians who are deaf or hard of hearing to have near real-time phone conversations.
From today, Australians who are deaf or hard of hearing, will now be able to speak directly to another person using a landline or mobile and have the responses captioned by a relay operator using voice recognition software.
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The 24 hour caption relay service will allow the person with the hearing impairment to view the captions with a 1-2 second delay over the web, on a smartphone/tablet or on specially designed captioned telephony handsets.
The service is provided by the NRS, an Australia-wide phone service at no additional cost for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. It offers eight different call options.
The service is particularly attractive because it is the closest NRS call option to an ordinary phone call and the one where the NRS operator is most in the background.
While many in the Deaf community, particularly those who are non-verbal, will continue to use other NRS offerings such as video relay, captioned relay is expected to be heavily adopted by seniors and others who have developed hearing impairments but can still speak.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said captioned relay was an important new service for people who are hard of hearing because they could have easy flowing conversations, without the stilted delays of speaking through text messages.
In July the NRS introduced two new options: video relay and SMS relay. The former allows Deaf Australians to contact people or services by making a video call in their first language, Auslan.
The message is then interpreted into English and spoken to the recipient by the NRS relay officer, who signs responses back to the caller.
SMS relay enables users to send text messages to people or services that don't use SMS, simply by sending a text to the NRS relay officer who relays the messages by voice to the recipient and sends responses back by text.
While anyone with an internet connection and a phone will be able to access captioned relay, a private operator, AccessComm, is offering limited numbers of landline handsets which contain built-in screens to display the captions.
Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association president, Nan Bosler, has also backed the new technology.
"Growing old is universal and it sometimes leads to hearing or other impairments, so services such as the NRS are vital to safeguarding welfare and access to communications for an ageing population," she said.
While traditional TTY handsets provide similar functionality to captioned relay, the TTY is a dated analogue technology which can only handle up to 45 words a minute, whereas captioned relay can match the speed of normal speech which is 150-180 words a minute.
The Australian Communication Exchange has previously conducted a limited four-year trial of captioned telephony.