Changes to the National Relay Service (NRS) has the potential to put those who are deaf or hearing-impaired at risk. This follows the Australian Government’s recent decision to release a Request for Tender (RFT) for the next NRS contract. According to Deaf Australia, the NRS has been one of the world’s best relay services but there are fears any proposed changes could result in a substandard service.

“The Government and Department of Community Services took no notice of consumer’s concerns with the essential service,” Deaf Australia CEO, Kyle Miers said. “The new NRS does not address the issues of isolation and social inclusion.”

Consumers who are deaf, hard of hearing, are deafblind or who have speech impairment rely on the NRS as a bridge to vital services and the wider community. However, the government now sees the NRS as a ‘safety-net’ instead of the equivalent phone service for consumers with disability, as it has traditionally been. NRS consumer organisations have made repeated key recommendations to improve the relay service but none have been incorporated in the tender documents, according to Deaf Australia.

The government has proposed a $22 million dollar per annum cap on services for the three years of the new contract. Previously the cost of running the service was close to $32 million a year. While access to emergency services remains a 365 days/24-hour requirement, the RFT does not stipulate operating hours required for all other services, ignoring the Auslan Video Relay recommendation that it remain. The Outreach Program, a community and NRS training initiative will not be re-introduced in the next NRS contract.

The new contract also requires all users with a deaf or speech impairment relay users to register to use the NRS, however, people wanting to contact these relay users will not need to register to use the service. Many NRS users believe this is a breach of fundamental disability anti-discrimination principles, requiring only people with disability register in order to access an essential service.

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