Thank you so much to all of you that have offered such a warm welcome to me. My first week has certainly been a steep learning curve. Attending the workshop last Monday, immersed me in new terminology, new faces and names and a wealth of new information. I have met with Alan Blunt, who attempted to ”teach” me the world of e -communications and with Jim Edwards who is laying out an enormously helpful path of transition for me, whilst filling my diary with meetings! To ensure we keep the momentum gained by Monday’s workshop, we are meeting with Sir Malcolm Bruce, attending the e-accessibility forum and a meeting with OFCOM, all in December. Over this time, with the help of many, I hope, we will be formulating our way forward for relay services but in the meantime……
I wanted to update you about the DAC led workshop last Monday that explored solutions to the provision of video relay.
The day was about giving some traction to an industry / sector led solution to the provision of video relay services. It was a very positive day with commitment from across Government, telcos, relay providers and the voluntary sector to find a solution. It was refreshing to hear all sides recognise the role UKCoD and DAC had in making the day happen and in turn we were very grateful to Ofcom for hosting the day and meeting the costs.
The industry / sector led solution came to be known as the ‘reverse charging’ or ‘called party pays’ model, and throughout the day it was explored from both a policy and market / infrastructure perspective. The model starts from a premise that if a deaf person calls a government department, health service, bank, utility etc using video relay then it should be seen as a reasonable adjustment for the government department, health service, bank, utility etc to receive the bill for the video relay service.
The focus during the day was on government / business because there was acceptance that calls to family / friends and small businesses represents a socially responsibility that will need to be met.
From a policy perspective the Equalities Act was seen as key, and some work may be needed through guidance and interpretation to provide greater clarity around duties and reasonable adjustment in relation to video relay. Access to Work are keen to explore ways they can ensure video relay is seen as an important service to support employees. It was widely acknowledged that health are a key service and a possible start point for delivering video relay.
From a market and infrastructure perspective the idea of called party pays was explored in two flavours – a pre-arranged model, and a call by call model. The pre-arranged model requires the government department / bank / utility / health service to contract with a relay provider and publish a number that users can call at no extra cost to the user. It was seen as building on the existing provision and has the potential to be scaled up. A call by call model, where a user calls any number and the called party chooses to accept the call on the basis that they will pay for the video relay service was seen as more problematic by both the telcos and the relay providers, although there was a commitment to explore it in more detail.
Our conclusions from the day are that in order to find a way forward two pieces of work need to be completed:
- a full appraisal of both the sector / industry led ‘called party pays’ route and an Ofcom led regulatory route, looking at the impact (economic, social, health) and risk (telecoms industry, relay providers, consumers, and Government) of each.
- further analysis of ‘readiness to deliver’ which explores the supply of interpreters, the market and infrastructure needed, and how emergency services would be delivered
The two pieces of work will enable us to produce an agreed strategy, with a delivery plan and a timetable that all parties sign up to. It needs to be recognised that either a voluntary initiative or a regulatory solution will take time to deliver. There are no immediate fixes.
It was clear from discussions throughout the day that there was a real commitment from all stakeholders to make video relay happen. It won’t be easy and there is a lot of work to do, but that there is every chance of success if we stay focused on:
- building a consistent, quality and reliable service that provides a solution for all calls / callers, at no more user cost than the equivalent voice call,
- a funding solution can’t wholly rely on either government or the telcos, but that recognises the responsibilities of the called party
As Christopher Jones said afterward “For the first time in years, I have much more confidence in seeing things actually move towards functional equivalent access to the telephone for all different groupings of deaf people”.
The immediate next step is to produce a more detailed summary of the day for the next e-Accessibility sub group on relay services, which is being held on the 20th December.
I look forward to meeting you all, working with you all, learning from you all to improve the lives of the deaf community
With Best wishes
Update for November 2012 (pdf)