Australian Deaf and Telecommunications
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How TTYs started and how the relay service began
Do you remember when TTYs came out? Do you
remember how they became popular in the Deaf and hard
of hearing community? And how soon we had the first relay
service in Australia? This article will take us back to when it
In John Flynn’s book, ‘No Longer By Gaslight’, John wrote
that a portable, battery operated unit called ‘Viditel’
made its first appearance for demonstration at the 15th
Annual Meeting of the Australian Federation of Adult
Deaf Societies (AFADS) held at the Adult Deaf Society of
Victoria’s Melbourne premises in 1974.
A request was then made to Telecom (now Telstra) to buy
these units and rent them out at very low cost to Deaf
people. Telecom responded by buying two units each of
M.C.M. and MAGSAT brands from America and these units
were demonstrated at the AGM of the Adult Deaf Society
of Victoria on 26 October 1976. Unfortunately the ‘Viditel’
project collapsed soon after.
As reported in the ‘Deaf Talkabout’ in May 1980, TTYs
reappeared when they were launched at the AFADS meeting
in Hobart on 19th April, 1980. The unit was called ‘Porta
Printer II’. They sold for $795 to Deaf people, their families
and to organisations like schools, Deaf societies etc. They
were sold for $975 to other buyers.
The Victorian Deaf Society (VDS) then quickly set up a
demo TTY at their head office and welfare staff were
trained to show Deaf people and their families how TTYs
worked. Due to the high cost of buying a TTY, a financial
arrangement was set up with the company (most likely
Intercept Communications of Victoria) who sold TTYs,
so that Deaf people could pay them off in monthly
installments for up to 4 years.
By June 1980, VDS had bought three TTYs, two for use by
Deaf leaders to try it out and to show other Deaf people.
VDS also installed a new dedicated TTY phone line (63
9218). This meant that VDS now had their own TTY number
where Deaf people could call via their own TTY. This was
the beginning of a telecommunications revolution where
people could communicate in real time via a telephone
line. Previously people had to write letters or send faxes if
they had a fax machine. VDS held demonstration nights to
cope with the demand from the Deaf community on how to
use the new technology.
On 9th October 1980, VDS developed an Australian first,
a TTY Relay Service. Deaf people could call VDS and ask
them to call a their doctor to make an appointment on
their behalf. VDS would leave the TTY line on whilst using
the normal telephone to make a voice call to book an
appointment. Once the appointment was confirmed, VDS
would then reply on TTY to the Deaf person about the
appointment. This was the very beginning of what is now
the National Relay Service.
This type of service continued to grow and January 1981,
the ‘Deaf Talkabout’ reported that a partnership was
formed between VDS and Austas Pty Ltd. Austas was a
telephone answering firm and they were given a TTY.
Austas agreed to an after hours TTY Relay Service for a
monthly fee from VDS. This became the first 24 hour TTY
Relay Service for Deaf people in Victoria. Because 1981 was
an International Year of Deaf People, Austas decided to
provide the service for free.
In 1983, Victorian Council of the Deaf (VCOD) set up a TTY
Relay Sub-Committee to work with VDS on how the TTY
Relay Service should operate and start lobbying for better
As more Deaf people purchased TTYs and their use grew, a
Directory of Telecommunication Devices was produced by
the Australian Federation of Deaf Societies for the whole
of Australia. Also ‘Deaf Talkabout’ printed names and TTY
numbers of Deaf people and various other organisations.
Demand for the TTY Relay Service was so great that by
1986, VDS set up two lines dedicated for the TTY Relay
Service use as well as a TTY line for business calls to VDS
only. In 1987, the VDS Annual Report notes that “we
must acknowledge that we have created a burden which
is increasingly heavy” and in the following year, it was
reported that staff were spending so much time on the TTY
Relay Service, the quality of their other tasks were affected
March/April 2010 | Communicate Issue 22
badly. Also the quality of providing a TTY Relay Service was
affected as sometimes staff had to close one line so they
could concentrate on other tasks.
VDS continued to provide the TTY Relay Service free of
charge to the Deaf community, but they had to pay an
external answering service a large sum of money every
year. Obtaining grants to continue the service was always
difficult. VDS began to look for ways to outsource the
service and approached government departments and
Telecom for assistance with the support of other Deaf
organisations. The government and Telecom were slow to
react to VDS’s calls for an independent relay service. VDS
became increasingly frustrated by the slow process and
said in the 1991 Annual Report that “the provision of an
adequate TTY Relay Service is a question of basic human
right and equality!”
Australian Association of the Deaf (AAD, now called
Deaf Australia) set up a sub-committee which included a
representative from the Deaf societies to lobby for both
TTY and TTY Relay Service access. A strong campaign
led to the government doing a feasibility study in 1994.
A class action was made to the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission for TTY access which led to the
Disability Telecommunication Equipment Program which
provided Deaf people with TTYs.
On the 29th May 1995, the National Relay Service (NRS)
was finally launched after Deaflink Inc. and Deafness
Resources Australia merged to become Australian
Communication Exchange (ACE) and secured a tender to
run the NRS. Deaf people all over Australia had access to
this high quality service. This meant the end of the VDS
TTY Relay Service, which ran for nearly 15 years. It was a
sad occasion for VDS as they were very proud of the fact
that they created the first TTY Relay Service in Australia.
On 19th April 2010, this will be the 30th anniversary since
the Porta Printer II appeared and 29th May 2010 will mark
the 15th anniversary since the National Relay Service was
What’s happening at hearservice?
If you’ve been to Vicdeaf recently, you may have seen,
heard or felt the noise of building work on level 2.
hearservice Audiology and Rehabilitation is moving into
Level 2, 340 Albert Street, East Melbourne in May 2010!
We will be providing our usual services in Audiology,
hearing loss management, devices and tinnitus to hard
of hearing and Deaf Victorians. We will have Standard
and Reduced Price schemes and also support clients with
reports for the Employment Assistance Fund.
At hearservice, all our profits go back into supporting
Deaf and hard of hearing people because we are part of
the Vicdeaf team. This is something we are proud of and
it is an important part of who we are and why we work at
You can also find our services in Box Hill and Oakleigh.
You can contact us for more information or to make an
Ph: 1300 30 20 31
TTY: (03) 9567 0411
Photo: Level 2 floor before the building of the hearservice clinic
Photo Source: hearservice.
Communicate Issue 22 | March/April 2010
Video Relay Interpreting Launch
On St Patrick’s Day (Wednesday 17 March 2010), the
Video Relay Interpreting (VRI) service was launched
in Geelong by the Hon. Lisa Neville, Minister for
Community Services. The launch included using Auslan
interpreters through video technology and was held at
the new Geelong VRI site – Barwon Health/Geelong
Hospital outpatient service.
Several more sites will soon be announced. Please check
the new VRI website for updates.
You can now find information about the VRI service
The website includes
information on how the VRI service works, where the
VRI sites are located, how to book a VRI appointment,
frequently asked questions (FAQs), contact information
and some Auslan video clips.
VRI service DVD
A DVD will be available soon and throughout Victoria.
The DVD explains how the VRI service works and
because it includes Auslan, captions and audio, it will
be accessible to everyone. The DVD will be distributed
by Vicdeaf as well as regional workers from Deaf Access
If you have any questions about the VRI service, please
contact Phil Harper at Vicdeaf on email: pharper@
vicdeaf.com.au or contact the Department of Human
Services (Disability) via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Hon. Lisa Neville, Minister for Community Services (left)
communicates with Vicdeaf
representative, Gavin Balharrie via interpreter Julie Judd on screen
while Lisa Adair (right)
Photo Source: Vicdeaf.
Photo: The group who assisted with setting up the Video Relay
Photo Source: Vicdeaf.
Photo: Vicdeaf CEO, Graeme Kelly discusses the benefits of Video Relay
Photo Source: Vicdeaf.
March/April 2010 | Communicate Issue 22
Australian Communication Exchange (ACE) is a national not-for-profit
community organisation. ACE was established to facilitate equity of
access to the telecommunications network for people who are Deaf, or
have a hearing or speech impairment. In its early beginnings, ACE also
conducted research into communication technologies and continues to do
ACE formed in May 1995 after a merger between two
well-known and established Australian 'parent' organisations - Deaflink
Inc. and Deafness Resources Australia (DRA).
- Deafness Resources Australia (DRA) formed in Sydney.
- Granted Federal Funding
- Set up of National Relay Service (NRS)
- Equipment Distribution Program
- First NRS Tender
- Deaflink and DRA joined forces to bid.
- Used Deaflink's Relay experience, DRA's equipment experience,
DRA's company status, both group's strong community support.
- Tender was underwritten by Queensland Government's QIDC. SUCCESS!
Since then, ACE has provided the relay service
component of the National Relay Service (NRS) under a contract with the
Commonwealth. The National Relay Service receives 2200 to 2500 calls a
day. Find out more about the National
ACE is continuing to fund and support new services
for the Deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired communities.
- Launch of ACE Video Relay Service (VRS) Trial
has committed $1 million to establishing the first Australian Video
Relay Service. This service is an online real-time video conferencing
service which operates through Skype. Deaf Australians can make
or receive telephone calls in Auslan, through an ACE Video Relay
Intepreter. The trial service continues to be invaluable; in 2012 an
additional interpreter joined the VRS team to accommodate peak call
volumes. To reflect this restructure, service hours were adjusted. VRS
now operates Monday to Friday 7am - 6pm QLD time.
video relay service will now form part of the National Relay Service (NRS)
from 1 July 2013.
– Launch of ACE Captioned Telephone Trial
also established Australia's first Captioned Telephone Service. The
service was initially rolled out in a web version in October 2009, and
in May 2010 the handset version of the technology was distributed to
hearing impaired individuals around Australia. The web version
was re-established in September, 2012.
Telephony offers live captions of telephone conversation delivered
through voice recognition software.
of OpenMi Tours
May 2011, ACE launched the OpenMi Tours smartphone app. The innovative
app was first developed to provide access to museums and art galleries
for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired. The functionality of this
technology has since been improved to make it a turnkey solution for
all cultural venues. As of June 2013, OpenMI Tours is available in
over ten locations around Australia. OpenMi Tours was the first in the
suite of apps to launch within the OpenMi Access Suite.
- Launch of OpenMi Silent Tweets
Silent Tweets is a smartphone app designed by ACE as a free community
broadcasting tool for people who are Deaf and hearing impaired. It
allows users to share information or announcements that might
otherwise be broadcast over loudspeakers or radio. The
app was officially launched at the Australian Deaf Games in Geelong on
14 January 2012.
- Launch of OpenMi Excursions
in October 2012, OpenMi Excursions is a student-teacher smartphone app
that offers interactive and accessible learning through Auslan and
captions. The technology was first developed by ACE in partnership
with the Victorian Deaf Education Institute and the Werribee Open
Range Zoo to create an accessible learning option for Deaf and hearing
– Donation of solutions to Conexu Foundation
March 2014, the Board of Directors determined to create a new entity
to ensure continued success of ACE’s access innovations. The Conexu
Foundation was established to facilitate and provide services or
solutions for people who are communication impaired, Deaf and hard of
ACE has continued to operate the core business function of delivering
the National Relay Service; and remaining solutions have been donated
to Conexu to continue growth and development. For more information on
Conexu, please visit: www.conexu.com.au
|Today (17 May 2012) Australian Communication Exchange
(ACE), Australia’s leading not for profit organisation for the provision
of communication access to Deaf, hearing and speech impaired
Australians, unveiled the first Video Relay Service (VRS) Kiosk in
VRS Kiosk, located in Darwin, is an online interactive video communication
service for people who are Deaf. The launch was made possible thanks to a
$9,000 Optus Regional Community Grant, which funded the set-up of the
Kiosk. The installation of this Kiosk means that people who are Deaf and
living in Darwin can use Auslan (Australian Sign Language), their first
language and a distinctly different language to spoken English, to
communicate with a hearing person over the phone.
The VRS Kiosk is open to the public at the Deaf NT office and provides
the Deaf community in Darwin with a wide-screen computer, internet and web
camera. Deaf Australians who cannot afford internet access and the
necessary equipment at home will now be able to communicate with hearing
people in their first language, Auslan, and at a near to natural pace
through a video call which connects them to an interpreter who relays the
conversation between the two parties.
ACE first established the Video Relay Service (VRS) in 2009 after
identifying the need for Deaf Australians to be able to make phone calls
in their first language, Auslan, and at a more natural speed than the TTY
machine. This tried and tested technology has been funded by ACE ever
since, providing a vital service for over 500 Deaf Australians.
For more information
Marketing Manager, ACE