WOW! @cataspanglish on twitter alerted us that there was a new mobile tariff being offered by Vodaphone Spain for Deaf people.

Vodafone launched the sign fee for Deaf people, created in collaboration with the Confederation of the Deaf (CNSE) (CNSE – English info) and is intended to enable Deaf people to communicate in spanish sign language via their mobile phone for only €18.50 Euros (15.66 GBP) a month.

More information on Vodaphone’s can be found here from Diariosigno (a FAB Spanish Deaf news website)

Vodaphone’s Signo Tarifa offers:

  • email
  • instant messaging
  • browsing
  • 350 sms
  • free video calls between Vodafone numbers

It’s only compatible with certain mobile phone models allow you to use the BlackBerry email devices and e-RealMail RIM and Nokia video call terminal.

Vodaphone UK used to have a Deaf only tarrif (many of us had a NOKIA communicator were on it) allowing text, email, fax and typetalk calls. Why would a Deaf person need voice minutes to make a phone call if you can’t hear?

When will UK mobile phone providers offer a real choice to Deaf customers?

None of the UK providers Vodaphone UK, Orange/Tmobile, 3, 02, BT provide a text only tarrif for 70,000 Deaf people  in the UK. Surely this is blatent discrimination under the Equalities Act? Surely under EU law what is available in once European country should be available in the UK?

OFCOM reported in Oct 2010 that that communication providers fell far short of providing even the basics such as:

  • access to an approved text relay service for people who are hearing- or speech-impaired, with rebates to compensate customers for the additional time taken by these calls
  • Free directory enquiries for consumers who are unable to use a printed directory because of a disability, with through-connection of calls
  • Priority fault repair (fixed line only) for customers who depend on the telephone because of ill-health or disability
  • Third party bill management, enabling a nominated friend or relative to act on behalf of someone who needs help to manage their affairs
  • Bills and contracts in formats such as large print and Braille on request

Sadly as OFCOM’s mystery shopping research found “the results were fairly poor across all the providers surveyed”. It makes depressing reading but glad they are acting upon it. It can’t happen quick enough.

“Ofcom has discussed the findings of this research with the communications providers concerned and required them to produce detailed action plans setting out how they propose to improve the situation. We have also asked to see copies of the training and reference materials that are provided to call handlers to inform them about these services. We will be meeting them regularly over the coming months to review progress in this area.

We have also made it clear to providers that we will be repeating the mystery shopping exercise in future and if improvement is not apparent we can move to formal enforcement action.”

Read Ofcom’s Disabilities Mystery Shopping report

So how do we get a Deaf only tarriff from the mobile phone providers?

Only customer pressure will see any changes and choices across the providers – so like the demos and twitter action against cuts, unpaid taxes etc. Deaf people will only get better choices and access to services when we start  mobilising ourselves.