Save Captel Captioned Phones for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Australians

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Mary-Ellen Peters
Mary-Ellen Peters signed this petition

On the 1st February 2020 due to changes to the National Relay Service contract to an International Call Centre, the Australian  Department of Communication made a firm decision not to continue captioning of Captel Captioned Phones vital to Deaf and Hearing Impaired Australians.

 To use any of the Department alternatives is slow unnatural and takes away the equality of a simple phone call for both the hearing impaired and the person on the other end.

With my Captel Captioned Phone I no longer have to get others to make my calls. Now I am a person first and no longer someone who can't hear on the phone. I can independently conduct my own affairs with dignity in a discreet normal conversation. No one could possibly put a price on this accessible product. I used to rely on asking others around me to make and receive the calls for me. This new technology means that I can make calls directly. The barriers of making calls for myself are removed instantly with this technology. This will also lead to increased productivity through education and eventual health benefits.

The Captel phone allows for increase size of the written words, the colour of the text is perfect for my vision and customized ring tones and captioned answering machine message controls enhance my phone communications. The brightness of the screen, adjustable volume for non-text services, and the capability for use with the telecoil with hearing aids is an added accessible feature.

Auto connection to the Relay Officer captioning allows discreet normal conversation without having to disclose to callers that I am at home alone and deaf, thereby adding to my sense of security.

Summary 

The Captel phone exceeds all other telephony due to these amazing accessible features 
: dependence and confidence in communication is increased
: able to look after personal and business affairs
: Hearing impaired are seen as a person first and having a hearing disability second;
: decreases isolation for young and old people; for people living in remote areas
: enables increased productivity and  equal opportunity in the workplace;
:improved relationships due to more contact; and
: able to conduct business without relying on someone else.

Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
states:

1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, .....

1 in 6 Australian people ( 3.5 million Australians) have some form of hearing loss. Hard of hearing phone users depend upon the CapTel Phone which uses the NRS service.

Should it be cancelled,the hard of hearing will be put at a severe disadvantage, will lose independence, and the ability to communicate with the outside world. The average age of Captel users is 80years old and therefore the suggested alternatives by the Department of Communication are unsuitable for our sector who rely on the ease of use and familiarity of Captel and love the familiar features enabling us to easily and quickly contact emergency services, social arrangements and to make doctors appointments, amongst many other things.

At the moment with our Captel Captioned Phones we have the amazing features of Automatic connection to the Relay Officer, no contact with the Relay Officer, complete independence and privacy, in fact, no one need know we are even using captioning. The fast continual scrolling, direct dialing and receiving of calls aids inclusion and equality as it is just like a normal phone but with open captioning allowing it to be suitable for the front office as other staff need to pick up the same phone.

We see this decision as direct discrimination against our Hard of Hearing sector especially those born before the modern technology era. It is cruel, discriminatory and unjust to force users to transition backwards to the slower and more difficult methods to make a simple phone call all due to perceived " value for money " and to keep the budget for the NRS at a capped $22million.

Captel is the best telephony technology in the world for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Australians and should not be denied .

BACKGROUND TO THE DISPUTE

Firstly the Department's argument:

The Department repeatedly claim that Ultratec Inc refuses to work with the government and the new NRS provider Concentrix. According to the government Ultratec have stated that they will only work with Australian Communication Exchange or its affiliates.

Australian Communication Exchange have gone into Voluntary Administration after losing the tender contract for the NRS which they have handled for the past two decades to an International Call Centre who has never handled one single relay call before. Why? Because Concentrix are said to be able to cap funding for the NRS to the unreasonable budget of $22million if they ditch Captel which reportedly used 60% of the National Relay Service 

The Ultratec Inc/ Captel argument :

Ultratec have stated that they are only too willing to make Captel available in Australia at the same rates they have for the past 9 years. They dispute many of the government's statements as false and misleading.

Ironically Ultratec manufacturers both the advanced Captel Captioned Phones and the suggested TTYs which the government want Captel users to transition backwards to. The government is unaware that the TTY is so outdated that it has actually ceased being manufactured. 

The President of Ultratec Wisconsin USA, Mr Robert Engelke (who was awarded an honorary degree for his amazing accessible telephony for the deaf and hearing impaired) has vowed that he will not compromise the integrity of the Deaf and HoH Australians at the expense of limited budget funding by the Federal government.

Mr Rob Engelke President of Ultratec Wisconsin USA believes in the rights of every person to have accessible communications  and fully supports the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities- Accessibility.  Most of Ultratec's employees are people with disabilities. Mr Engelke and his team have been working for many many years engineering new designs to allow Deaf and Hearing Impaired all over the world to access inclusive telephony handsets on a dignified and equal level.

Rob Engelke and his staff wish they could disclose to Captel users exactly what is happening about the ongoing negotiations however the government have threatened them with  strict legal confidentiality clauses regarding contract dealings.

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So there you have it.

Why should the communicative futures of all Hard of Hearing Australians be caught in the middle of government perceived " value for money " capping limitations of accessible telephone communications, when able hearing Australians can just pick up a state of the art phone and have a direct normal conversation in privacy whilst retaining full control of their communications?

If this doesn't constitute a breach of Human Rights and Disability Discrimination I don't know what more evidence is needed?

Please, in order to support our Save CAPTEL  campaign to keep Captel captioned in Australia, and assist the US company (that are providing the current captioning), we ask all supporters to continue to contact MPs and demand that our rights to advanced inclusive telephony be continued at the same rates we have experienced for the past 9 years.

We the people of Australia request  that there be NO capping of funding for the National Relay Service and remind the government of the pledge made by the former Minister for Communication, that "no user will be worse off by the changes to the National Relay Service". It is far time that the Department treats the Australian Hearing Impaired community with dignity and equality of communication.

Yours Sincerely
Ms Christine O'Reilly

on behalf of the thousands of hearing impaired who rely on the Captel Captioned Phone and those who never even got the chance to acquire this amazing accessible telephone to Australia