8.4 million deaf Brits can't make calls to businesses independently


  • Phone calls still a vital communication tool for 80% of the deaf community, but poor experiences leave callers frustrated and dependent on others

  • New Relay UK app, provided by BT, is set to better support the hard of hearing with calls, but 78% say frontline staff are a barrier to business accessibility

  • 89% of the community want businesses to do more to make their services more accessible

Only 1 in 20 of those who are deaf or have hearing loss can complete tasks over the phone, according to a new survey, leaving 70% of the deaf community (8.4 million) to ask friends or family members for help with basic calls.

The poll[i], commissioned by BT and in partnership with the UK Council on Deafness, reveals that despite the rise in digital technologies (such as web chat and social media), phone calls remain an essential form of communication for 80% of the deaf community, with 46% calling businesses at least once a week.

However, for many, the calling experience for everyday tasks such as booking appointments (90%), paying bills (53%) or purchasing products and services (53%), is poor, with certain services (such as healthcare and banking) inaccessible for a quarter of the deaf community.

The research comes as the Next Generation Text service provided by BT– which helps people with hearing and speech difficulties communicate over the phone – is rebranded to Relay UK.

The Ofcom regulated service translates text to speech and vice versa with the help of a specially trained Relay Assistant based in one of BT’s contact centres[ii] around the country.

The new app offers an improved customer experience and new functionality. The technology, developed by BT, enables a user to easily make a call based on their own accessibility needs. The user can connect to a call by selecting one of three options: Type & Read, Speak & Read, or Type & Hear.

Available for download today[iii], the new Relay UK app is free to use[iv] and is available to UK mobile customers in the UK.

The development of Relay UK has been led by BT on behalf of stakeholders across the deaf community, such as Action on Hearing Loss, UK Council on Deafness, National Deaf Children’s Society and Hearing Link.[v]

Deaf advocate, Louise Goldsmith, said: “I have difficulty communicating with anyone on the phone. I can hear that the person is speaking on the other end, but unfortunately cannot make out what they are saying because I rely on lipreading. But sometimes picking up the phone is the best way to get things done and in those situations, I often rely on my mum’s help. This app has been amazing for me as it has enabled me to become so much more independent when doing things as simple as booking an appointment at my local salon.”

Jesal Vishnuram, Technology Manager, Action on Hearing Loss, said: “There are currently 12 million people in the UK who experience hearing loss and using the telephone remains a big barrier for them to communicate with friends and family, at work, with health care providers, banks and other services. Relay UK provides a vital text relay service to help people communicate by phone with the use of a text relay assistant in real time. This service can be pivotal in keeping people with hearing loss and deafness in employment, access healthcare including emergency services and other services as well as help keep them in touch with friends and family.”

According to BT’s research, the biggest barrier (78%) to a successful call is frontline staff who are not trained or are inexperienced at taking calls from deaf customers, while the use of automated transfer services that are inaudible (67%) and a lack of technology available to help handle calls are also highlighted.

With a range of unique challenges facing them, 89% of those in the deaf community said that businesses and organisations need to do more to make their services more accessible. When unable to complete a phone call with a business, almost 70% of respondents said that they have to physically go to the store and a further 18% said that making phone calls to businesses leaves them feeling like they are not valued.

Katherine Ainley, MD BT Ventures, said: “How we use technology to connect with each other has changed rapidly in recent decades, and this simple service transforms the calling experience for the estimated 12 million deaf people in the UK.”

“We know from conversations with the community that bad telephone experiences are putting people off from using the phone to contact businesses, which can make certain services inaccessible. We’re urging businesses to alert frontline staff to the service and download our helpful Relay UK Business Toolkit, which includes educational content about the service – and what to expect when taking a call from one of our Relay Assistants. We hope that by downloading the toolkit, businesses will be able to provide a seamless call experience for their deaf customers.”

Find out more at www.RelayUK.BT.com.

Find out more about BT’s work in enhancing accessibility for all users at: https://btplc.com/Inclusion/index.htm

Steps to download Relay UK

  1. Search for the “Relay UK” at the App Store for iPhone or iPad, and in Google Play for Android devices

  2. Install the app on your device

  3. Link the app to the phone number you want to use to make calls from

  4. Choose how you want to use the app: Type & Read, Speak & Read, or Type & Hear

  5. Now you’re ready to make your first call



[i] The consumer research poll was conducted with the support of UK Council on Deafness, between 15.10.2019 - 23.10.2019, with 129 nationally representative UK Adults who are deaf or hard of hearing

[ii] In the past year, BT’s call centres handled around 33 million calls at an average of 93,000 per day

[iii] Relay UK supports Android 6 upwards and iOS 10 upwards. A desktop version to replace the NGT Lite app for Windows PCs and Macs will be available during 2020. Relay UK is available in English only

[iv] Relay UK is free to use, but users will still be charged the standard rate to make a call as determined by their call plan. Disabled users are also entitled to a special tariff to compensate them for the additional time taken by their relay calls.

[v] The development of the app was carried out with input from current users who are hard of hearing or speech impaired, and with support from Action on Hearing Loss, UK Council on Deafness, National Deaf Children’s Society and Hearing Link


About BT

BT’s purpose is to use the power of communications to make a better world. It is one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions, serving customers in 180 countries. Its principal activities include the provision of networked IT services globally; local, national and international telecommunications services to its customers for use at home, at work and on the move; broadband, TV and internet products and services; and converged fixed-mobile products and services. BT consists of four customer-facing units: Consumer, Enterprise, Global and Openreach.

For the year ended 31 March 2019, BT Group’s reported revenue was £23,428m with reported profit before taxation of £2,666m.

British Telecommunications plc (BT) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on stock exchanges in London and New York.

For more information, visit www.btplc.com