MTN is piloting an innovative national relay service (NRS) to serve South Africans with hearing loss. The system harnesses the power of technology to enable users to make and receive phone calls.
The pilot with Convo South Africa, a deaf-owned company, expands communication access for those who otherwise would not be able to communicate via voice call, audio or video. Depending on the type of call, an operator speaks, types, or uses sign language when facilitating calls for or between deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind South Africans.
The NRS user connects with a communications assistant, registered and trained by Convo, who facilitates the call in real-time. As a result, users will be able to make calls to friends and family, business services and other organisations without having to rely on someone else to place calls for them.
“Contacting critical emergency, fire and medical services is more efficient and far quicker than before for over 2.8-million South African’s living with hearing disabilities or speech impairment ,and 235,000 South African Sign Language users,” says Cornelia Van Heerden, MTN SA chief customer service and operations officer.
Over the next four months, MTN and Convo will test the effectiveness of the service with 100 members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Braam Jordaan, CEO of Convo Global, is a deaf South African who was awarded the Order of the Baobab by President Ramaphosa in 2019. Following his award, Braam advocated for South Africa to launch an NRS, which led to the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa mandating telecommunications companies to increase access for the deaf community.
“As the largest deaf-owned and deaf-led company, Convo has a unique ability in creating solutions for challenges that we have experienced first-hand,” he says. “Our deaf and hard of hearing employees, who are both consumers of our service and our engineers, work with interpreters in a special partnership that is unmatched. The multi-faceted experiences and perspectives of all our employees help guide Convo’s innovation”.