Allowing Deaf Access to Telecoms Revolution Would Create up to £1.1 BN Benefit for UK

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VRS Today! campaign launches showing universal telecommunications access for Deaf British Sign Language users would create jobs, and reduce welfare bill.

VRS Today!

The Deaf community has come together to launch VRS Today! a new campaign calling for telecoms equality for the UK’s British Sign Language (BSL) community.

BSL users do not have equal access to telecommunications in the UK. Existing text-based services are slow and outdated – they force BSL users to communicate in their second language, English.

Video Relay Services (VRS) is a proven technology which allows Deaf people to communicate in their first language, BSL. VRS creates equal access to telecommunications for sign language users, and for the hearing who wish to communicate with them. VRS in the UK is not currently universally available; it will require support from the Government and the regulator Ofcom to make universal VRS a reality for BSL users.

Universal VRS would create up to £1.1bn net benefit for UK

Economic research conducted by Europe Economics to support VRS Today! reveals that introducing a competitive market for VRS would create a net benefit to the UK economy between £600 million and £1.1 billion over ten years. Other key findings include:

  •     A competitive market for VRS would create over 2,500 new jobs for Deaf people, BSL interpreters, and for the wider UK workforce
  •     VRS would yield more than £6.4 million for the UK Exchequer during the first ten years of service by reducing welfare and public sector spending, and increasing tax and National Insurance revenues
  •     Second round effects to the economy as a whole and benefits to deprived local areas through the establishment of VRS call centres

Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness, said: “Video Relay Services are a great way for BSL users to communicate with their friends, family and colleagues – just as hearing people do every day. Universal access to VRS is the only way equal access to telecommunications for Deaf people, whose first language is BSL, will be achieved. To ensure this, it is crucial that the Government and Ofcom work to establish an open, competitive market for VRS in the UK. I fully support the VRS Today! campaign, and hope that my Parliamentary colleagues will join with me in helping to make the case for universal VRS to Government on behalf of our constituents – both Deaf people, and the hearing who wish to communicate with them.”

Paul Kershisnik, spokesperson from Sorenson Communications, the leading provider of VRS in the US commented: “We’re thrilled to be a part of a broad based campaign for VRS in the UK. The US has proven that an open, competitive market for VRS transforms the lives of sign language users, giving them the same access to the telecommunications revolution that hearing people take for granted every day.

“The cost benefit analysis by Europe Economics shows that the introduction of a competitive market for VRS would create a significant net benefit for the UK of up to £1.1 billion. This includes the creation of over 2,500 new jobs for Deaf people, BSL interpreters, and for the wider UK workforce.

“Most importantly, for Deaf people who use BSL, English is their second language. VRS is the only technology which allows Deaf people to hold a conversation in their native language, whether they’re speaking to hearing or Deaf friends, family and colleagues. It’s time the Government acted to make telecoms equality a reality for the UK’s BSL community.”

Adrian Masters, Interim Director of the UK Council on Deafness commented that: “The UK Council on Deafness believes that all deaf people should have a wider choice of telecommunications services and service providers. Increasing the number of options for telecommunication services for all deaf people is necessary to provide equal access to the telephone network, the national provision of Video Relay services would make a significant difference to BSL users.”

Ruth Myers, Chairman of TAG, said: “For many years, TAG has been campaigning for modernised relay services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. We are delighted to see that new research has established the positive economic benefits that video relay services will deliver for the UK. The need for video relay and other forms of modernised relay are beyond doubt and the benefits will not just be economic. It is essential that modernised relay services are available at a price equivalent to a voice call by hearing people as soon as possible.”

Tom Fenton, Chief Executive of the Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) said: “Video Relay Services will not only give Deaf people equality of access to telephony, which is good for Deaf people; they will create the infrastructure for far more efficient and less expensive delivery of services, such as Sign Language Interpreting, which are publicly funded, which is good for all taxpayers. It is the perfect win:win opportunity.”

Cathie Craigie MSP, Convener of the Cross-Party Group on Deafness, said: “Universal access to Video Relay Services for British Sign Language users would have a life-changing effect on Deaf people in Scotland. They would be able to make a telephone call in the same way that hearing people do, and I fully support the VRS Today! campaign on behalf of all my constituents, for whom communicating on the phone isn’t as simple as picking up the receiver. I hope that we will see Video Relay Services introduced here in Scotland, and welcome the job opportunities that will come out of it.”

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