Blog: Relaying Relay

Blog 5 Apr 2018
Nz Relay

When it’s wet and miserable outside, I like to gaze wistfully out the window, watch the raindrops race each other to get to the bottom, and mull over life’s great mysteries – you know, like when the lights go out, where is it to? If a book about failures doesn’t sell, is it a success, then? Why isn’t there another word for ‘synonym’? How does a Deaf person use the phone?

For some, this last question is much of a muchness, because in case you missed it, society has made a move towards more text-based and visual technologies with smartphones and social media, particularly instant messaging. In fact, I know many people who actively avoid actually speaking over the phone, because it gives them low-key anxiety…

All right, it’s me – I’m the only who gets low-key anxiety. But really, how important is it really for Deaf or hearing impaired people to use a phone when there is a plethora of other ways to communicate?

To put it simply, why not? Why shouldn’t a Deaf or hearing impaired person be able to communicate over the phone? In fact, why shouldn’t a Deaf person know what sick trick that free-skier just pulled to clinch Olympic gold? Why shouldn’t a blind person know how the performers were dressed at the Grammys’ tribute to the Bee Gees? Why shouldn’t everyone be able to actively participate in society? Accessibility is good for everyone.

Which is precisely why New Zealand Relay was set up by the government in 2004 – as its website says, such a service enables Deaf, deafblind, hearing-impaired and speech-impaired communities to keep in touch by phone without needing the assistance of friends or family.

The traditional relay services operate 24-7, 365 days a year, so basically, like you would expect a regular phone service to. Conversation is mediated, if you will, by a relay assistant (RA) and can be carried out in a number of ways, several of which are free of charge.

  • The user can type their message into a textphone/teletypewriter (TTY), which is then read out to the receiver. The receiver voices their reply, which the RA then types back to the TTY user. This service can also be carried out through the TexMee app for smartphones and over the internet.
  • Voice Carry-Over (VCO) allows a Deaf or hearing impaired person who prefers to use their own voice to directly speak to the person they wish to. Again, the RA types back their response to the VCO user. Similarly, with Hearing Carry-Over (HCO), a speech impaired person uses their hearing abilities to directly listen to the person they’ve called, and then types their responses, which the RA then reads out to other party.
  • The Speech to Speech system enables a speech impaired person to communicate using either their own voice or a voice synthesiser. The RA acts as their voice, listening to and repeating their message to the person called, who then speaks directly to the speech impaired caller. There is also a video-assisted version of this service, which has limited hours of operation.

Other services include CapTel, where phone conversations are captioned as they occur, and the Video Interpreting Service for users of New Zealand Sign Language.

The government’s contract with NZ Relay’s current providers expires next year, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is keen to hear your thoughts on the future of relay services in New Zealand. The closing date for public submissions is Friday April 13 2018. You can find more information here.


Shrutika, Able Caption Editor

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