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A milestone towards digital inclusion has been achieved as Vodacom announces another first in South Africa, with the launch of a real-time Specific Needs and National Relay Service (NRS), which expands its offerings for Deaf, hearing- and speech-impaired customers. This further strengthens the techco’s support to persons with disabilities and its commitment to building an inclusive digital society.

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“For almost two decades, Vodacom has championed the communication needs of persons with disabilities by providing access to products and services that address their challenges and help to improve their lives. The Specific Needs and NRS Centre offers an inclusive technology solution that advances our goal of empowering all South Africans and ensuring no one is left behind in the digitalisation journey. The launch of this system is another example of how Vodacom is delivering on its purpose to connect for a better future” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, Executive Director of External Affairs for Vodacom South Africa.

The NRS enables Deaf, hearing, and speech-impaired persons to contact hearing people such as family, friends and organisations, in real-time and on their own without asking a friend or someone else to make the call which impedes their independence. Registered Vodacom prepaid and postpaid customers who are Deaf and use South African Sign Language (SASL), hearing-impaired or have speech difficulties can place a call to any hearing person via specially trained Relay Officers (RO). The ROs are the central link on the call and facilitate communication between the NRS user and the called party.

Some examples of these calls include making a booking at a restaurant or an appointment with a medical doctor. More critically, the NRS provides SASL users the option to request emergency services, such as police, ambulance, traffic, sea rescue, and fire services.

The NRS enables Deaf, hearing, and speech-impaired customers to choose the type of relay service that meets the needs of their specific disability. This includes voice relay, text relay, live chat, captioned telephony relay as well as video relay. The NRS is free of charge for customers using a Vodacom SIM. As part of the NRS, Vodacom is also offering a Video Relay Service, which enables Deaf SASL customers to use video technology to communicate with hearing persons. A video call connects Deaf customers to ROs, who are South African Sign Language Interpreters (SASLIs).

For example, the SASL user connects to the SASLI on video, the SASLI re-speaks the Deaf user’s message to a hearing person using a phone while simultaneously signing the conversation to the user.

Besides the NRS, customers with various disabilities such as visual, hearing or physical impairments can access the Specific Needs Call Centre to resolve Vodacom service related queries.

In 2004, Vodacom pioneered a Specific Needs initiative to make cellular communications accessible to all South Africans, especially people with disabilities. Since then, the company has provided a wide range of products and services that help to overcome communication barriers for those with specific needs. These include devices designed for those who have visual impairments, text-based ER24 emergency services for Deaf and hard of hearing customers, and a dedicated contact centre for customers with disabilities.

“Not providing accessible call centre services denies human rights to persons with disabilities, and promotes social exclusion as they have limited ways of communicating to organisations and hearing people. With SASL proposed as the country’s 12th official language, it is imperative that more is done to bridge the real-time communications gap that currently exists,” says Desiree Hayes, Managing Executive at Vodacom South Africa.

To access the NRS, Vodacom customers can choose voice relay by calling 082 12580, or text relay by sending an SMS to 12580 or email to [email protected].

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