Ofcom has today published a report into the feasibility of additional telephone relay services. The report was commissioned by Ofcom as part of its review of the Universal Service Obligation and focuses primarily on video relay, although captioned telephony services are also considered.
A video relay service would enable sign language users to make real-time calls to hearing people (and vice versa) by bringing a sign language interpreter into the conversation. Such a service brings real benefits to those deaf people for whom British Sign Language (BSL) is the language of choice.
In general, deaf people interviewed for the study were enthusiastic about video relay. Video relay helps promote independence and is favoured by many sign language users for its ease, speed and ability to convey emotion.
The study found that broadband was the best form of delivery for video relay. Although a number of technical challenges still remain, they are likely to diminish over time. Potential demand for these services is difficult to estimate but the number of weekly users might reasonably be expected to fall within the range of 2,000 to 4,500.
Ofcom supports the availability of video relay services which provide a functional equivalent to conventional telephony, and therefore might help to lower some barriers that lead to the social exclusion of deaf people.
Ofcom will now begin to explore the ways in which such services could be provided and funded. In the first instance we will talk to central and local government departments as well as other social agencies which may see the benefit of purchasing video relay services in order to communicate with BSL-using stakeholders.