Request for the enactment into law of the public telephone relay service to improve the accessibility to usage of the telephone

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Telephone and Relay Service Saved My Life!

A 46-year-old Deaf man told us “Telephone and Relay Service Saved My Life!”
On June 3 2017, he sent a lifesaving request through “Telephone and Relay Service” while clinging to his overturned pleasure boat in Mikawa Bay, which is a bay to the south of Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

This relay service usually doesn’t accept the emergency phone call so this lifesaving request by the Deaf man was rejected at first, but the relay service finally took it this time as an exception. It was 4 hours after the Deaf man sent his request when he was rescued.

Also, the current “Telephone and Relay Service” doesn’t offer the service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is because it is only a private service that is supported by the Nippon Foundation Social Innovation, and is not a public service in Japan.

This Deaf person’s incident gives me the shivers when I think if it had happened outside of the normal service hours, or if the relay service continued to refuse this emergency phone call.

To abolish such a limitation, we insist that the Telephone and Relay Service establish it as a nationwide public service.

For everyone to be able to use the telephone service, we are collecting signatures for the request to provide “a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year Telephone and Relay Service as a public service” by June 30, 2017.
We ask for your cooperation in signing our online request.
Thank you.


Do you know that there is an unfair situation for some people who cannot use a public infrastructure such as the telephone?

- To use a telephone is very difficult for people who do not have spoken language fluency.

- At the present, there is no efficient system that solves this unfair situation in Japan.

- We, NPO Information Gap Buster, are conducting the online signature-collecting campaign for improvement of the telephone relay system by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Q: Who cannot use telephone?

A: In Japan, there are one million people who do not have the spoken Japanese fluency, the so-called  "communication disadvantaged people."

Q: The "communication disadvantaged people" indicates foreign residents in Japan, deaf and hard of hearing, elderly people, and so on.

A: Although nowadays the Internet service is widespread and contact with email has increased, there is still need for telephone contacts.

For example, there are many situations with people who need to make a phone call, such as making an appointment, an emergency contact, or an urgent report of the loss of an article like a credit card.

As a result, the telephone is a barrier for the communication-disadvantaged people.

Q: Is there any support for the communication-disadvantaged people to make a phone call?

A: One of the ways to support the communication-disadvantaged people to make a phone call is to use "the telephone relay service" except for them to ask for a private interpreter. The telephone relay service is an indispensable service to establish equal access to information. The procedure for the telephone relay service is first, a client contacts an operator/interpreter with his or her means of communication, such as foreign spoken languages, written languages, or sign languages. Then, the operator/interpreter interprets or translates the client’s message from one language to another, and makes a phone call for the client. In addition, the operators/interpreters should be fluent in not only spoken Japanese but also other languages like English, Chinese, Korean, Sign languages, and so on.

Q: How can I use the telephone relay service?

A: The procedure is as follows.

* Refer to Website of the Nippon Foundation "The telephone relay service testing implementation".

Q: When can I use the telephone relay service?

A: You can use the telephone relay service in the following situations.

(1) When you want to use your time effectively. If you cannot talk on the phone, you might miss an opportunity or waste your time.

- Making a reservation on the phone: "Can I make a reservation tonight?”

You can go to a restaurant with your friends without advanced planning. 

- Buying or asking a question on the phone: “ Do you still have it?”  “Is it still available?”

You can call TV shopping immediately if it has a limited quantity sale.

- Making a request on the phone:  “Could you bring it to me right now?”

Even if a package is delivered when you are not home, you can call and ask that it be redelivered.

- Emergency contacts: “Oops, I made a mistake.”

If you email your friend the wrong information about a place to meet, you can call him or her to correct your information. 

- Confirmation on the phone:  “Are you open today?”

If you need to see a doctor immediately, you can call to make sure that you can see the doctor on that day.

(2) When you want to order or apply for something accepted only by telephone.

- This is a situation when you might miss the opportunity or be disadvantaged if you cannot call.

- The procedure is accepted only by telephone, such as a notification of withdrawal or cancellation.

- Telephone shopping: When orders are accepted only by telephone, such as TV shopping. When reservations are accepted only by telephone, such as buying a ticket for a concert.

Even though the Internet is now widespread all over the world, there are still many cases where only telephone calls are accepted.  For example, if you search for the keyword “accepted only by telephone” on Google, you will find 76,600,000 “only by telephone” cases. Now, you can imagine that a huge information gap will occur if you cannot make a phone call.  Usually, when the communication-disadvantaged people need to make a phone call, they ask their family, friends, or private telephone service companies to do it. However, because there is a limit to the period of time and the frequency, the communication-disadvantaged people often need to give up making a phone call on that day and have to wait until the next day. As a result, the person could miss a chance or waste a time. In order to avoid such unfairness, it is necessary to provide a public telephone relay service. There is a limit to the support by family, friends, or private companies. Thus, we are conducting this signature-collecting campaign to provide the telephone relay service.   Q: How does the telephone relay service stand now?

A: Currently NPOs and several service industrial companies are running the telephone relay service, not the official telephone companies. 

For example, the following three companies and three organizations provide the telephone relay service testing that Nippon Foundation is trying for deaf test users. Around the year 2000, a few private companies, which were not the regular telephone companies, started the telephone relay service in Japan, and at that time the service was supported by limited government grant-in-aid and payments at the clients’ own expense. Still, operating the telephone relay service and expenses has been limited, so the service is unsuited to the clients’ needs. If the government supports the telephone relay service as a public service, it will meet the needs of the client more sufficiently. 

Q: How do the telephone relay service stand in foreign countries?

A: In the United States, telephone companies are required to establish the telephone relay service by the American with Disabilities Act because the law prohibits discrimination of the disabled. Likewise, the telephone relay service is established in European countries such as Sweden, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, France, and Norway, and other countries such as South Korea, Thailand, and Australia.

Therefore, we, NPO Information Gap Buster, want the government to establish the telephone relay service as a public service in Japan, and we also want a barrier-free communication environment established by a public telephone relay service like over ten other advanced nations, mentioned above.

In Thailand, the telephone relay service was started in 2012. 
The situation of telephone relay service in Thailand(Thai Telecommunication Relay Service)

Q: What will be the effect if I sign up on the online signature collecting?

A: We are going to turn in the signatures of people to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications that manages the telecommunication industry in Japan.

The signatures represent the many people that see the need for the public telephone relay service and the government should require the telephone companies to establish the public telephone relay service. Then, the public telephone relay service will solve the unfairness to the communication-disadvantaged people, it encourages them to participate in public affairs, and we believe that it stimulates the whole society. Moreover, to establish the public telephone relay service expands sign language and or Multilanguage interpreter jobs. 

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