Relay UK app image

Communication services provider BT has announced a new app that helps people with hearing and speech difficulties communicate over the phone called Relay UK.

The news comes following research commissioned by BT in partnership with the UK Council on Deafness that discovered an overwhelming number of people with hearing loss struggle with phone calls and need to ask friends or family for help.

According to the poll of 129 nationally representative UK adults who are deaf or hard of hearing, only one in 20 can complete tasks over the phone, leaving 70 percent of the deaf community (8.4 million) to ask friends or family members for help with basic calls.

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In addition, the research found that despite the rise in digital technologies, phone calls remain an essential form of communication for 80 percent of the deaf community, with nearly half of the respondents calling businesses at least once a week.

However, for many, the calling experience for everyday tasks such as booking appointments (90 percent), paying bills (53 percent) or purchasing products and services (53 percent), is poor, with certain services (such as healthcare and banking) inaccessible for a quarter of the deaf community, adds BT.

In light of these statistics, BT rebranded its Next Generation Text Service – which helps people with hearing and speech difficulties communicate over the phone – to Relay UK.

The Ofcom-regulated service translates text to speech and vice versa with the help of a specially trained Relay Assistant based in one of BT’s contact centres around the country.

The new app aims to provide an improved customer experience and new functionality. It allows users to easily make a call based on their own accessibility needs. Users can connect to a call by selecting one of three options: Type & Read, Speak & Read, or Type & Hear.

Free to use and available now, the Relay UK app is available to BT mobile customers throughout the UK.

Jesal Vishnuram, Technology Manager at Action on Hearing Loss, said: “There are currently 12 million people in the UK who experience hearing loss and using the telephone remains a big barrier for them to communicate with friends and family, at work, with health care providers, banks and other services.

“Relay UK provides a vital text relay service to help people communicate by phone with the use of a text relay assistant in real time. This service can be pivotal in keeping people with hearing loss and deafness in employment, access healthcare including emergency services and other services as well as help keep them in touch with friends and family.”

According to BT’s research, the biggest barrier to a successful call is frontline staff who are not trained or are inexperienced at taking calls from deaf customers, while the use of automated transfer services that are inaudible and a lack of technology available to help handle calls are also highlighted.

Furthermore, nearly nine in 10 of those in the deaf community said that businesses and organisations need to do more to make their services more accessible.

When unable to complete a phone call with a business, almost 70 percent of respondents said that they have to physically go to the store and a further 18 percent said that making phone calls to businesses leaves them feeling like they are not valued.

Katherine Ainley, MD of BT Ventures, said: “How we use technology to connect with each other has changed rapidly in recent decades, and this simple service transforms the calling experience for the estimated 12 million deaf people in the UK.

“We know from conversations with the community that bad telephone experiences are putting people off from using the phone to contact businesses, which can make certain services inaccessible.

“We’re urging businesses to alert frontline staff to the service and download our helpful Relay UK Business Toolkit, which includes educational content about the service – and what to expect when taking a call from one of our Relay Assistants. We hope that by downloading the toolkit, businesses will be able to provide a seamless call experience for their deaf customers.”

To find out more about Relay UK, click here

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