Frequently asked questions

04 August 2016

The phone call enables deaf users who want to speak to the hearing party to do so.  Similarly, users with some hearing can listen to the other end of the call while reading the captions, and speech-impaired people can listen to the call and type what they want to say.

A purely web-based system would require a continuous data connection (3G or Wi-Fi) on mobile devices in order for users to know that they had an incoming call.  This could lead to battery drain and/or higher data consumption.

Similarly, for fixed lines, a purely web-based system would need the internet-enabled device to be powered up and connected to the internet in order for users to know that they had an incoming call.  With a regular phone call, alerting systems like flashing house lights and local pagers can be used.

For emergency text relay calls, location information can be used to find the caller in exactly the same way as any other emergency call.  Ofcom requires UK communications providers to make caller location information available free of charge on emergency calls.

The phone call identifies the telecoms provider responsible for paying for the relay call, and also helps prevent relay fraud from being perpetrated (this has been a serious problem in the United States).

The relay service is free at the point of use.  The cost is paid by the telecoms providers.

The phone call on which it is used is chargeable, but disabled users are entitled to a special tariff to compensate them for the additional time taken by relay calls.  This reflects the fact that all their calls are likely to be made using the relay service.

Fixed line providers generally meet the requirement for a special tariff by applying a rebate to chargeable calls on which text relay is used. Calls that are included in an unlimited bundle are already zero-rated so will not attract a rebate.

Mobile providers generally meet the requirement by zero-rating text relay calls made by their disabled customers.  This is because mobile calls are usually purchased in bundles, e.g. 100 minutes per month.  Because there isn’t a per-minute charge for these calls, it is difficult to apply a rebate.

Calls that do not attract a rebate typically include directory enquiries, international directory enquiries, international calls and calls to revenue sharing numbers (i.e. where the telecoms provider will be passing most of the cost of the call to another party).

The Deaf Access to Communications campaign has published some useful information about the different providers’ policies. Click here for more information.

The Equality Commission advises that refusing to take calls involving a third party from disabled people would be likely to be a breach of the Equality Act.

“A bank has a policy not to accept calls from customers through a third party. This could amount to indirect discrimination against a disabled person with a learning disability who may use a support worker to call the bank. The right sort of approach is to make sure the customer’s records show anyone who deals with them that they may be communicating using a support worker. This is also likely to be a reasonable adjustment.”
‘What equality law means for your business’,
Equality and Human Rights Commission 2010

The Information Commissioner advises that taking calls via a relay service would not be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

“If any individual contacts an organisation using Typetalk [now Text Relay] or a sign language interpreter we would expect the same level of security to be in place as with any customer. This would include ensuring that adequate security questions were asked to authenticate that the customer is who they say they are before discussing any account details. Once the individual had been authenticated the organisation would be able to answer the enquiry for the customer through the Typetalk operator. The customer who has contacted Typetalk will be aware that information will be disclosed to the operator in order for this to be relayed to them. We would consider that the customer had effectively consented to their information being used in this way.”

Letter to TAG from the Information Commissioner’s Office,
published in Sequel (TAG newsletter) spring 2006

Calling your bank by video relay

You may also like to know that the following banks provide video relay so that their customers can contact them in sign language:

Bank of Scotland http://www.bankofscotland.co.uk/accessibility/signvideo

Barclays http://www.barclays.co.uk/Accessibility/Hearingorspeech/

Halifax https://www.halifax.co.uk/accessibility/signvideo/

Lloyds http://www.lloydsbank.com/accessibility/signvideo.asp

HSBC http://www.hsbc.co.uk/1/2//accessibility

First Direct  http://www2.firstdirect.com/1/2/banking/ways-to-bank/video-relay-service

This is to conserve battery life and minimise data consumption.  To receive another NGT call (i.e. if your phone is ringing), open the NGT app and click Join.  To make another NGT call on a mobile phone, open the NGT app, switch to your phone's dialler and dial 18001 followed by the number you want to call.  Switch back to the app and click Join.

Your network provider can switch off voicemail on request.  There is information about this on the main networks’ web pages here:

EE

O2

Three 

Vodafone

Hearing aids operate in either acoustic coupling or telecoil coupling mode.

In acoustic mode, hearing aids receive and amplify all sounds, both wanted (e.g. speech) and unwanted (e.g. background noise).

Hearing aids on the ‘T’ setting avoid unwanted noise by turning off the microphone and receiving only signals from magnetic fields, for example an induction loop in a meeting room or theatre.

Mobile handsets can interfere with hearing aids, causing buzzing or other noises. However, some handsets have an integral telecoil, meaning that they can be used by hearing aid users on the ‘T’ setting.

There is an American standard used to rate how well a particular handset works with a hearing aid on ‘T’ (telecoil) and also on ‘M’ (microphone mode). The scale is from 1-4, with 4 being the best. A phone rated T3/M3 or T4/M4 will generally work best for people using hearing aids.

You may find it easier to hold the telephone slightly behind, rather than directly over, the ear to obtain the clearest signal.

If you still find an unsatisfactory level of noise when using a handset directly, you may like to try an inductive earhook plugged into the headset socket, or a neck loop.

Telephones for use on a fixed line can be analogue or digital. You may see the acronym DECT, which stands for digitally enhanced cordless telephone.

If a phone is described as 'hearing aid compatible' then it has an inductive coupler, which works directly with a hearing aid to give a clearer sound. To use the inductive coupler your hearing aid has to be switched to the ‘T’ (telecoil) setting.

As with mobile handsets, the number of DECT phones that work well with hearing aids switched to ‘T’ is small, but there are some available.

If you use a search engine to search for “hearing aid compatible DECT” and restrict your search to the UK, you should find a range of models and suppliers, both commercial and charitable.

If you are a deaf person buying a specialist handset for your own use you should not need to pay VAT - your supplier will be able to advise you.

The Mobile Accessibility website has information about mobile handsets from several large manufacturers.

However, the number of mobile handsets available in the UK which work well with a hearing aid switched to ‘T’ is still relatively small.

Specialist mobile handsets with a rating of at least T3/M3 are available from commercial suppliers and also from charities supporting deaf people.

If you use a search engine to look for “hearing aid compatible mobile phones” and restrict your search to the UK, you should find a wide range of suppliers.

If you are a deaf person buying a specialist handset for your own use you should not need to pay VAT - your supplier will be able to advise you.

Action on Hearing Loss produces a factsheet (downloads a MS Word doc) about mobile phones, including more information about compatibility with hearing aids

Telephones for use on a fixed line can be analogue or digital. You may see the acronym DECT, which stands for digitally enhanced cordless telephone.

If a phone is described as 'hearing aid compatible' then it has an inductive coupler, which works directly with a hearing aid to give a clearer sound. To use the inductive coupler your hearing aid has to be switched to the ‘T’ (telecoil) setting.

As with mobile handsets, the number of DECT phones that work well with hearing aids switched to ‘T’ is small, but there are some available.

If you use a search engine to search for “hearing aid compatible DECT” and restrict your search to the UK, you should find a range of models and suppliers, both commercial and charitable.

If you are a deaf person buying a specialist handset for your own use you should not need to pay VAT - your supplier will be able to advise you.

Several mobile network operators have tariffs offering unlimited SMS from around £10/month. These may include handsets or be SIM-only, i.e. the customer supplies the phone.

It pays to shop around as all providers offer slightly different packages and mobile internet may or may not be included (or it may be possible to ‘trade’ it for unlimited SMS on some packages).

In addition to these tariffs, it is also possible to use pay as you go price plans to buy the services you want to use. At the time of writing, at least one mobile network operator gives a month’s unlimited SMS and 500 MB mobile internet for a £5 top-up.

The deaf communications charity TAG has more information about tariffs with unlimited SMS on its website.

BT Basic is a social telephony scheme for customers who are in receipt of any of these means tested state benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (income related)

BT Basic is designed for people who make few calls but who rely on the phone. It reduces the line rental to £15.30/quarter and also includes £4.50 worth of calls.

Disabled people are not automatically eligible - you have to be on means tested benefits to qualify.

However, the restriction on having a second fixed line does not apply if you are disabled or chronically sick; this allows people to have a line that is used for a care alarm or monitoring system (for example a pendant that you can press if you have a fall). People in care homes are eligible for BT Basic if they are on means tested benefits.

BT can check with the Department for Work and Pensions that you are on means tested benefits, so you do need to provide your National Insurance number and the name of the benefit you receive.

This avoids the need to send personal documents through the post, and the information you give can only be used for this purpose. If you are eligible for Pension Credit but have not so far claimed it, you may wish to do so even if it only brings you a very small amount of money a week, as you will then be eligible for BT Basic.

In the Hull area only, KCom is the universal service provider and its social tariff is called the Social Access Package.

Ricability is a national research charity dedicated to providing independent information of value to disabled and older consumers.

It has published information about digital radios that are easy to use.

RNIB also has some useful resources including a checklist of what features to look for when purchasing a digital radio.

Finally, the British Wireless Fund for the Blind can provide easy to use audio equipment designed for people with visual impairments. In some circumstances, equipment can be provided on free permanent loan.

Cost can act as a barrier to ownership of accessible equipment for many disabled people. Here is some information about sources of funding for accessible equipment.

In the workplace: Access to Work can help to fund the cost of equipment or alterations to existing equipment needed in the workplace, for example, accessible phones.

At home: Disabled people are entitled to a community care assessment from their social services department, and social services can provide equipment such as accessible mobile phones - increasingly, social services are providing direct payments so that people can buy equipment of their choosing.

Government guidance says that local authorities should try to complete assessments within 28 days. The law sets out in general what social services departments must provide, but local policies and resources will influence the services that are available locally.

Local authorities cannot refuse to assess your needs if you are disabled, and if you are assessed as needing a service according to the local eligibility criteria, then social services must provide that service.

Ofcom is aware that the presence of sound effects and music in television programme can be a distraction or even an irritant to some viewers.

Background sounds may also reduce the intelligibility of the dialogue for viewers with a hearing loss.

At the same time, for many other viewers, sound effects and music can significantly enhance the audience’s experience of TV programmes, acting as it does to provide cues which can help programme producers to create the desired atmosphere for their programme (for example, enhancing the sense of dramatic tension or to create a light-hearted feel for a particular scene).

Ofcom does not have powers under the Communications Act to set specific rules on the presence of background sounds on TV in the UK.

Sound effects and music play an important role in TV productions both in the UK and worldwide and production decisions such as this rest with the producers and broadcasters.

The public service broadcasters (BBC, ITV1, GMTV1, Channel 4, Five and S4C) do, however, set their own production guidelines, and we understand that these do cover the level of background sound in many cases. You may wish to contact the broadcasters direct if you have difficulty with particular programmes.

An Ofcom research project into ‘Clean Audio’ followed a study that was commissioned by one of its predecessor bodies, the Independent Television Commission (ITC).

This showed the potential benefits of reducing the levels of background sound, and identified possible technical solutions.

Following this and Ofcom’s support of the UK Clean Audio Forum, the need for a mechanism to deliver clearer dialogue was recognised by industry.

As a result Digital Video Broadcasting standards can now support the delivery of Clean Audio and we understand that dialogue clarity is the subject of significant research by Dolby Laboratories who are currently working on a method of delivering clean audio in a bandwidth-efficient manner.

In practical terms, if you are experiencing difficulty hearing television dialogue clearly, using subtitles may help. The BBC now subtitles 100% of its output, and subtitling levels are above 90% on ITV1 and Channel 4. Ofcom sets minimum levels for subtitling, as well as for sign language and audio description, under the Code on Television Access Services.

Finally, adjusting the sound settings on the TV set itself may also help. As well as bass and treble controls, modern TV sets often have a variety of different digital sound settings, some of which may reduce or enhance the clarity of the dialogue in some cases, although much depends on the characteristics of the individual receiver.

On cable and satellite only, you may need to use a different channel number to access the audio description for BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and Channel 4, depending on where you live.

If you cannot receive audio description, try changing to these channels:

 

Freesat

Virgin

Sky

BBC1 outside London

950

851

954

BBC2 outside England

968

852

969

ITV1 outide London

977

853

973

Channel 4 outside London

974

854

974

Channel 5

-

855

-

S4C

-

856

-

As part of the audit process, Ofcom assesses the methods of providing information to consumers with a variety of disabilities and access needs.

The accredited companies’ websites have been tailored to cater for consumers with visual impairments and are written in plain English.

Find out more about the sites accredited by Ofcom