Sunday, 25 June 2017 15:29

ACCAN doubts about funding of National Relay Service Featured

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The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has raised concerns about future federal government funding of the National Relay Service which has a critical role as a communications channel for Australians who are deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired.

While it welcomes the government’s commitment to providing the NRS into the future, the ACCAN has voiced its concerns about the lack of provision to increase funding even though new relay options were introduced over the last three years.

“The NRS has been a critical communications channel for Australians who are deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired for more than two decades and it continues to be an essential service for many consumers,” said ACCAN Disability Policy Adviser Wayne Hawkins.

“The introduction of video relay, SMS relay, two-way Internet relay, the NRS app and captioned telephony has made Australia’s National Relay Service a world’s best service for people who are deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired, and it should be applauded.

“There are real concerns that without appropriate funding NRS services may be wound back from present levels leaving some consumers without services.”

According to Hawkins, ACCAN would like to see the NRS funded on a user-need model rather than be capped at the 2012 level of $20 million per year (excluding GST).

ACCAN also has concerns about the government’s proposal to require NRS users to register to use the service — particularly if the registration process is online — and Hawkins says this does not accommodate NRS users who do not have Internet access, such as older Australians, who use teletypewriters to use the NRS.

“The NRS is more than a safety net, it provides equivalent access to communications services for those who cannot use standard telephone services. It should be available for anyone who needs it without a requirement to be registered.”

ACCAN says that consumers have also raised concerns that the NRS outreach services have been curtailed, creating a digital literacy vacuum for potential and new users of the NRS.

“While there may be a number of mainstream technologies, such as Skype and FaceTime, that users could transition to, decreasing reliance on NRS services, without appropriate awareness, education and ongoing support it is unlikely that these options will be taken up,” Hawkins says.

“There are also situations where these mainstream options are not available, such as contacting government services like Centrelink.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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