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Middle-aged man with hearing aid talking to mobile phone screen.

Middle-aged man with hearing aid talking to mobile phone screen.
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How to make a phone call when you're deaf or can't speak

Blog post | 06 Dec 2018

One in 6 Australians has some hearing loss. And about 30,000 Australians have total hearing loss and use the national sign language, Auslan.

Other Australians who have speech impairments can be difficult to understand on the phone, while some can hear but don't speak. Some people are able to speak, but are hard of hearing.

So, what happens when they need to make a phone call?

Get connected

This is where the National Relay Service (NRS) comes in — a 24-hour phone service for people who are deaf, or have a hearing or speech impairment. The NRS uses specially trained staff, called relay officers, who convert voice to text, text to voice, or Auslan to English. Depending on the person’s needs, this is typically done using internet-based text, SMS, captions or video. 

There are no extra charges on top of what you would normally pay for a phone call or data. And the calls, which can be made from anywhere in Australia, are completely confidential. 

The service is for everyone. It's also available to friends, family and businesses that want to connect with an NRS user.

How the NRS works 

To access the service, visit Relayservice.gov.au. On the site you’ll find the phone numbers and relay call channels — the ways you can call — most appropriate for your needs. You can also download the NRS app

The key relay call channels are: 

  • Internet relay Ideal if you are deaf, can't hear well or have difficulty using your voice. Using the internet, you type what you’d like to say so the relay officer can say it to the person you’re calling, and vice versa.

  • Captioned relay If you have a hearing impairment but prefer to use your own voice, you can speak directly to the other person, while the relay officer will type out what the other person is saying back to you.

  • SMS relay Ideal if you are deaf, can't hear well or have difficulty using your voice. Using a mobile phone, you type your side of the conversation as a series of SMS text messages and read the responses from the other person, typed by the relay officer, also on your phone.

  • Video relay Perfect if you want to make a call using Auslan. You sign to the relay officer via video who, using their voice, relays the conversation to the other person on the phone.

  • TTY relay This is an option for people who use a special kind of phone designed for those with a hearing impairment — called a TTY (teletypewriter) — and who don't wish to use a phone, mobile or computer. You can choose to type and read; speak and read; or type and listen.

  • Speak and listen A solution for people who want to speak and listen, but if there is any misunderstanding, the relay officer – who is trained to understand people with a speech impairment – will repeat what you have said.

Regardless of their needs, there’s usually a phone solution for every person who is deaf or has a hearing or speech impairment. With it, comes more freedom and independence. 

Tips for talking to an NRS user

When you speak to an NRS user who is deaf or hearing impaired, your words will be typed, signed or repeated by the relay officer. These tips, from the National Relay Service, will help ensure the call goes smoothly: 

  • Pause at the end of each phrase or sentence — this allows the typing of the relay officer to keep up. 
  • Repeat and spell difficult words, names, addresses and phone numbers.
  • Cover just one topic at a time.
  • Speak no more than 1 minute during each of your ‘turns’.
  • Always say "go ahead" after each time you have spoken.
  • Always end your call with "goodbye, signing off" or something similar.
  • Speak directly to the person you are calling rather than the relay officer. Use "I" and "you", rather than "tell her". People like to be spoken to directly even though there is a relay officer involved.
  • Once your call has started, only speak directly to the relay officer if you have a question or problem about the call process.

For more information

  • Visit the National Relay Service or call the helpdesk on 1800 555 660 (call 1800 555 630 if using TTY, or SMS 0416 001 350).
  • To learn more about deafness (or vision impairment) in children and adults, and to access support services, go to the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.
  • To find out if you are eligible for The Australian Government Hearing Services Program or the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) visit Hearingservices.gov.au.

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