Captel to be axed from National Relay Service in 2020

More than 4,000 people with hearing difficulties around Australia will be without the CapTel phone service from 2020 when an American company takes over the National Relay Service.

The Commonwealth Government has awarded Concentrix Services a contract to deliver the National Relay Service (NRS). Concentrix will axe the CapTel handset service on 1 February 2020. It will replace CapTel with alternatives that are cumbersome and slow.

What is a CapTel captioned telephone? It works like any other telephone with one important addition: it displays every word the caller says throughout the conversation. CapTel phone users can listen to the caller and can also read the written captions in the CapTel’s display window.

Deafness Forum of Australia, Deafblind Australia, Deaf Australia (the group that represents people who communicate in Auslan) and Australian Communications Consumer Advocacy Network have been collaborators for several years to support the National Relay Service and ensure that its services are not degraded but improved.

This group of advocacy organisations met in July 2019 with officers of the Department of Communications (the department that is responsible for the National Relay Service) and its soon to be appointed contractor Concentrix.

The Department representatives made it clear that the axing of CapTel was not negotiable.

Deafness Forum argued that the notice period was far too short and would have a profound effect on the 4,000 users of CapTel, many of whom are aged and vulnerable citizens. We strongly recommended that the Department negotiate a 5 year transitioning period with the company that owns the licence in Australia to sell CapTel units. The department said it wasn’t able to make a deal with the company but couldn’t explain why due to commercial confidentiality.

Where does this leave CapTel users? The department will not be dissuaded, so we must take our case to the politicians. It is very important, in our experience, that the decision-maker hears directly from the people that a decision will affect. In this case, the decision-maker is the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher MP. T: (02) 9465 3950. Level 2, 280 Pacific Highway Lindfield NSW 2070

Comments from our members
“Captel is for the chop despite the harm this decision will cause. I cannot believe that this government which my mother has voted for all her life would treat her in such a poor and cavalier fashion and ignore the basic need for human contact and socialisation. It is imperative that the Federal Government continue to fund the CapTel service and reverse its decision to axe the service!”

“It is indeed a big shock to many Australians, and myself, who rely and need the Captel handset. It seems to me that this section of people with a hearing loss have been sacrificed in a big way so that the TTY can be ‘re-introduced’ and then plunge those who went deaf later in life and whom can speak, right back in the dark ages. Many of our members have spoken of their dismay and disgust, particularly being isolated and the loss of their independence. In the long run, this move will cost the Australian government much more than it does now.”

“I cannot believe that the government wants to save money at the expense of people who have the disability of deafness and who depend on this service. You are not even replacing it with an alternative. My mother at her age, uses this phone service as an aid to fill in the numerous requests of places like Centrelink, make appointments to see doctors, specialists etc. and to communicate with her remaining friends and family. I am totally shocked that you as a government don’t see this as a problem.”