Capalaba woman Shirley Edwards says axing of phone service is discriminating against hearing-impaired

ACCESS: Shirley Edwards says the federal government's decision to axe support for the CapTel handset will mean thousands of people will be cut off from work, family and daily life. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough
ACCESS: Shirley Edwards says the federal government's decision to axe support for the CapTel handset will mean thousands of people will be cut off from work, family and daily life. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

A CAPALABA woman fears that hearing impaired people will be unable to call for help in an emergency when the government stops supporting a telephone that displays text, allowing deaf people to read what a caller is saying.

Shirley Edwards, who has two cochlear implants, has lodged a human rights complaint against the federal government's decision to stop supporting the CapTel handset from February next year.

Mrs Edwards - the second Australian to use a CapTel handset - said the federal government decision was discriminating against deaf and hearing-impaired Australians and meant thousands of people would be cut off from work, family and daily life.

"CapTel means I'm independent and not alone," she said. "The other options are old technology and too slow. If something bad happens, I won't have time to log into my computer or wait for an operator to connect me to an emergency service."

A Communications Department spokesperson said a new provider would deliver the National Relay Service for three years from November. All relay options would remain the same, except captioned relay options using CapTel which would not be supported from February.

"A new online captioning service, planned for introduction later this year, will offer NRS and existing CapTel users an alternative service," the spokesperson said. "People who are unable to use computers, mobile phones or tablets will be able to use a teletypewriter to hear the other party in the call and read the text on a screen."

The Australian Human Rights Commission has accepted Mrs Edwards' complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act and sent it to the Communications Department for a response.

Another Redland resident Lee Scott, who uses a braille CapTel after losing her sight and hearing about 11 years ago, said CapTel gave her security.

"If I am on my own, I can call the police or fire service if needed," she said. "I can call a friend for assistance if I am in urgent need. It gives peace of mind to me and my family."

"One of the main differences that CapTel has made for me is being able to ring my mum for a good old chat. She lives in Tully, a long way from Brisbane, so I don't see her very often."

Mrs Edwards said CapTel was the most modern technology available and thousands of hearing-impaired people used it for business, to make appointments, stay in touch with friends and in emergencies.

"The government is pushing to downgrade us to older technology, which I have used before and it is not as convenient or efficient," she said.

CapTel handset users have been encouraged to contact the NRS helpdesk about the transition to other options.

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