Convo South Africa and MTN have partnered to assist the hearing impaired with making and receiving phone calls. The National Relay Service is the first of its kind, with 100 participants taking part in the pilot project.
The idea originated seven years ago with Convo Global co-founder Braam Jordaan, a South African who is hearing impaired himself.
In 2019, upon receiving the Order of the Baobab Award from President Ramaphosa, Jordaan brought telecommunications access into the conversation.
In 2021, the Code on People with Disabilities was amended so electronic communication service licenses were required to provide a National Relay Service (NRS).
“There are 98 million phone subscribers in South Africa, but access to telecommunication services is not the same for all,” says Convo.
“Approximately 2.8 million South Africans with hearing loss and 235 000 South African Sign Language (SASL) users have zero or limited telecommunications access.”
Convo’s goal is to “create meaningful conversations that transform lives”, a step that will be massively impact to people who have previously been deprived of access to conversations.
The pilot project is set to run for four months before being made available to the public, and includes video sign language interpreters and communication assistants facilitating all calls.
Jordaan explains that Convo has a unique ability to manage the challenges deaf people face.
“Our employees living with hearing disabilities, who are both consumers of our service and are our engineers, work with interpreters in a special partnership that is unmatched,” he says.
“The multi-faceted experiences and perspectives of all our employees help guide Convo’s innovation and shape our global company.”
The participants will be able to place or receive a call through NRS to or from any hearing individual. The hearing individual will place or receive the phone call as they would any other.
“This is an example of the functionally equivalent telecommunication service. The call can also be made to any mobile phone, toll free, and landline numbers,” says Convo.
NRS will help the hearing impaired to become more independent, and will also help those who need to communicate with people in their lives who have hearing disabilities.
MTN, who is providing each pilot participant with 2GB of free data and 200 airtime minutes, says they were inspired by the nation’s potential.
MTN South Africa’s executive for customer experience operations, Cornelia Van Heerdin, says: “We at MTN have been dedicated to bridging the digital divide and enabling our customers to be fully connected and realised individuals who can achieve anything they put their minds to.”
Convo has been advocating for many years for deaf people to have access to telecommunication services.
National director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, Bruno Druchen, says: “Creating connections across languages and cultures is an important way to learn more about diverse perspectives and generate new understanding.”
“The partnership between MTN and Convo South Africa will definitely break down the barrier of having access to the telecommunication industry.”
Picture: Convo South Africa