ITU

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Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) stipulates that:
“To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.”
In the case of persons with hearing disabilities, access to communications is often provided by relay services where an intermediary typically provides a conversion between voice and text or sign language. These two are the most common of the many possible types of relay services (e.g. those for persons with speech or dexterity difficulties).

At the time of writing over 100 countries have ratified the UNCRPD. As governments implement Article 9, they will need advice on the provision of relay services. ITU-T Question 26/16 is currently studying relay services with an aim to provide this advice. This work will lead to a Technical Report and Recommendations defining the performance expected from relay services.

In Europe, new versions of the Telecommunications Framework Directives require equivalence and choice for persons with disabilities. The Directives are likely to lead to increased provision of relay services. Similar regulatory actions are likely to occur in other parts of the world.

Developing countries often have a higher percentage of persons with disabilities and the need for relay services is greater. As the Internet infrastructure develops in those countries, it may be used to provide high-quality relay services without the need to build services using older technologies.

Many types of relay service require a human intermediary for the entire duration of the call. This means that the costs of providing such a relay service are much higher than for a conventional telephone call. The UNCRPD requires that users with disabilities have access on an equal basis with others. This leads to the conclusion that relay services have to be funded in some way in order for persons with disabilities to participate fully in society. Note that there may be a net economic benefit to society when benefit payments and taxation are taken into account.

The ITU workshop planned in November 2011 is intended as a forum where ideas, problems and good practices can be shared. Existing and future relay service suppliers will be able to share experiences with governments, regulators, standards makers, user groups and users. Its outcomes will be fed into the Q26/16 studies.