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Telephone calls to improve for UK's disabled customers

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The UK's telecoms regulator has announced that an improved 'text relay' service must be made available to people with hearing and speech impairments by all landline and mobile telephone providers.

Text relay enables people with these impairments to communicate with others through telephone or textphone equipment.

Today's decision means all phone users will have access to a 'next generation' text relay service which enables faster, more fluent conversation over a variety of devices.

Ofcom launched a review of text relay after its research found that, while the service was valued by its users for helping them communicate and increasing their independence, many thought it could be improved.

Under the current relay system, an assistant acts as an intermediary to convert speech to text and vice versa for the two parties. The research found that callers were frustrated by the current inability to interrupt, hold 'real time' conversations or express and detect emotion. The speed of conversation is generally slow, as callers must take turns to speak or type.

Following consultation, Ofcom has decided that landline and mobile providers must offer a next generation text relay service, to all customers who require it, within the next 18 months. The new service will offer significant improvements, including:

Parallel two-way speech, which makes use of an internet connection to allow users to interject, instead of having to wait until the end of a message. Conversation flows much more quickly and naturally as a result; and a wider range of equipment for accessing the service, including easier use of text relay on the move via mobile phones.

As well as mandating these improvements to text relay, Ofcom will be working with industry and disability representatives to explore the impact of speech recognition technology on the accuracy and speeds of current and future relay services.

Alongside this, Ofcom will examine the case for requiring communication providers to provide video relay services in future.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom Consumer Group Director, said: "The new text relay service will provide a real improvement on the current telephone experience for hearing and speech impaired customers."

"Technology in this area is still evolving, so Ofcom will continue working to ensure disabled users can access reliable, up-to-date relay services which help them communicate more easily."

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Tags: ofcom  UK