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Technology services for deaf children and young people

Photo: Relay services can help you be more independent

A relay service usually relies on a third person being involved in your voice or video calls. Their role is to translate between the two people having a conversation so that both can fully understand the other and have a productive conversation. Commonly, relay services work between speech and text and between BSL and spoken language.

You may find that because there is an extra person involved in your conversation that it may be slower than usual. However, they are popular with deaf adults as they make it easier to independently contact a wide range of people and organisations, such as your bank, doctor or local council.

Here we tell you about a text relay service, video relay services and the emergencySMS service which allows you to contact the 999 services by text.

Text relay services

The Relay UK service (previously known as Next Generation Text) allows people to have conversations using voice or text, or both. It can be helpful whether you can hear a phone conversation or not, and whether you can clearly speak or need to communicate using text. The Relay UK service can be used on a landline phone, smartphone, tablet, computer or textphone – so it can easily be used wherever you are.

When making a call you can dial a prefix number before the main number, dial that person’s text number or use the Relay UK app. The relay operator will then know what type of device you are calling from and what type you are calling (for example a voice phone calling a textphone or a mobile calling a laptop). You then speak or type your conversation and the relay operator relays your message to the other person either by voice or text. They reply in text or voice to the operator who then speaks or types the message to you.

This service could be really helpful to you when contacting your bank or doctor, or can help you at work. Many people also use it for social calls.

Video relay services

Another way to communicate with others, which is becoming increasingly popular, is to use a video relay service. These services use a sign language interpreter as the relay assistant. This works in a similar way to video chat services like Facetime or Skype, and it links the deaf person with an interpreter using a real-time video link. The deaf person signs to the interpreter and the interpreter then speaks to the hearing person. When that person replies the interpreter will sign the reply back.

Typically you would access a video relay service using your computer or laptop with a webcam, a tablet or smartphone – so it can be a very portable solution.

Video relay has become more popular recently, mainly due to more people now owning smartphones and tablets and the availability of affordable high-speed internet and mobile data services.

Another advantage of these recent technological advances is that the interpreter can now be located away from the user. Instead of being in the same room, they can work from anywhere – even another country!

In the UK, there are a growing number of video relay services available including SignVideo, MyFriend, Sign Solutions, Sign on Screen, InterpreterNow and contactScotland.


If you were involved in an accident or an emergency situation, how would you alert the emergency services and get help? The emergencySMS service has been designed to allow deaf people and people with speech difficulties in the UK to have an SMS text conversation with the police, ambulance service, fire and rescue, or coastguard. So you will be able to call for help or alert to any kind of emergency. You will need a mobile phone to use the service and you’ll have to register your mobile before using the service. Registration is simple and free, simply visit the emergencySMS website.

In an emergency situation you would send a text message from your registered phone to 999. This text will then go to a Next Generation Test relay assistant who will speak to the relevant emergency services operator. You have a text conversation with the emergency services via the relay assistant until the emergency has been resolved and help is on its way.

In a typical conversation they will ask what service you require and then ask for your name, location and details about their emergency. The questions might seem very detailed, but they will all be necessary in allowing the emergency services operator to determine how urgent the situation is and exactly what action they need to take. Please don’t let this put you off – this information is key and could save someone’s life.

The emergencySMS service is an integral part of the UK’s 999 emergency services, so it is important that you only use this service in real emergency situations where you think someone’s life is in danger, a crime is being committed or there is a serious fire.