Deaf News: Open letter in The Times challenges telecoms companies to act

Posted on May 11, 2012


In an open letter published in The Times today, a number of leading deaf charities and individuals have called on the Chief Executives of telecoms companies BT, O2, Vodafone, Three, Talk Talk, KCom, Virgin Media, Everything Everywhere and BskyB to take action to improve deaf access to telecommunications.

The letter, which coincides with Deaf Awareness Week, states that the industry is worsening inequality by delaying the introduction of specialised relay services.

Following talks in November 2011, the Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, called on the telecommunications industry to work with the deaf community to find solutions which meet their communications needs. The heads of the British Deaf Association, UK Council on Deafness and the National Deaf Children’s Society now say that they have become frustrated by the industry’s failure to engage with them.

Richard Robinson from the VRS Today! campaign said:

“The Minister has been clear that he expects the telecoms companies to work with the Deaf community to meet their communications needs. This has not happened; Deaf representatives have been stonewalled by the industry. The letter is a wake-up call to the CEOs of these companies who have so far failed the UK’s Deaf population. We hope that this letter will spur them into action and bring equality a step closer.”

The full text of the letter can be read below:

Open Letter to the Chief Executives of BT, O2, Vodafone, Three, Talk Talk, KCom, Virgin Media, Everything Everywhere and BSkyB

Dear Sirs,

As we mark Deaf Awareness Week, we are writing to express our frustration at the lack of progress towards the introduction of a telecommunications service which meets the needs of deaf people. Six months ago, the Communications Minister called on you to engage with the deaf community to discuss these needs and establish how the industry could deliver modern relay services including enhanced text relay, captioned telephony and video relay services. You have failed to meet with us in open forum in response to the Minister’s request and your silence has been deeply disappointing.

Deaf people have the right to access telecommunications which are functionally equivalent to those enjoyed by other end-users. For British Sign Language users this can only be achieved through a fully operational and universally available Video Relay Service. Enhanced text based relay services and captioned telephony will provide similar transformational services for deaf people who use spoken and/or written English.

We urge you to engage fully with us and all relevant stakeholders to find a viable solution which delivers functionally equivalent telecommunications for deaf people. Positive action by the industry is long overdue. You are delaying the introduction of modern relay services, and exacerbating the isolation and disadvantage which is faced by deaf people who are denied equal access to telecommunications.

Deaf people are waiting for you to act.

Yours sincerely,

o Jim Edwards, Chairman, UK Council on Deafness

o Ruth Myers, Chairman, TAG

o David Buxton, Chief Executive Officer, British Deaf Association

o Susan Daniels, Chief Executive, National Deaf Children’s Society

o Gill Morbey, Chief Executive, Sense

o Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2009 – 2010

o Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair, All-Party Group on Deafness

o Rt Hon Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair Liberal Democrat Committee on Equalities

o Mike Crockart, Member, Joint Committee on Human Rights

o Anas Sarwar MP, Deputy Leader, Scottish Labour Party

o Roger Beeson, Chair, Royal Association for Deaf People

o Ross Trotter, Chairman, National Association of Deafened People

o Gordon Chapman, Chairman, DN: UK

o Clare Kennedy, Chief Executive, deafPLUS

o Jeff McWhinney, Managing Director, SignVideo

o Steve Powell, Chief Executive, SignHealth

o Bencie Woll BA, MA, PhD, Director, Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, UCL

o John Walker, Convenor of Deaf Studies, University of Sussex

o Charlie Swinbourne, Deaf Journalist and Broadcaster (and Editor of this site)

o Mark Nelson, Managing Director, Remark!

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