Convo South Africa, a deaf-owned company, launches the first National Relay Service for people living with hearing and/or speech disabilities in South Africa to make and receive phone calls and access voice/video mail.
Images: Convo SA
By enabling access to communication services in real-time, deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind individuals, as well as individuals who identify as hearing impaired, gain ownership of their conversations and open new opportunities for them to thrive.
There are 98 million phone subscribers in South Africa, but access to telecommunication services is not the same for all. Approximately 2.8 million South Africans with hearing loss and 235,000 South African Sign Language (SASL) users have zero or limited telecommunications access. These individuals have been deprived of conversations that could have steered the course of their future. Convo South Africa’s goal is simple: create meaningful conversations that transform lives.
Convo South Africa’s National Relay Service is in partnership with MTN, Africa’s largest mobile network operator. Together, they launched a 4-month pilot with one hundred deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind participants, as well as individuals who identify as hearing impaired, to test the feasibility and effectiveness of the service before releasing it to the general public. The pilot allows participants to place or receive a call from any hearing individual, connected through a video sign language interpreter or a communication assistant (through text) that will facilitate the calls.
People living with hearing disabilities can now become more independent. They can make an emergency call, not just for themselves but for others, make a medical or mental health counselling appointment, or use telehealth services. They are also able to use Gender-Based Violence, Childline and COVID helplines. The National Relay Services also benefits police and administration officers, emergency personnel, spiritual leaders, medical professionals, business owners, customer support representatives, family members, friends, teachers, and all South Africans who might need to communicate with those living with hearing disabilities in their lives.
“Inspired by South Africa’s potential, 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. Together with Convo we are excited to be increasing telecommunications access to South Africans with hearing loss.”, says Cornelia Van Heerdin, MTN South Africa’s Executive for Customer Experience Operations.
Braam Jordaan, Convo Global’s CEO, is a deaf South African who was awarded the Order of the Baobab by President Ramaphosa in 2019. Through his award, Braam advocated for the National Relay Service in South Africa which led to the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to mandate a regulation requiring telecommunications companies to provide access for people with hearing disabilities.
“As the largest deaf-owned and deaf-led company, Convo has a unique ability in creating solutions for challenges that we have experienced firsthand. Because we understand.”, said Braam Jordaan, CEO of Convo Global. “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. The multi-faceted experiences and perspectives of all our employees help guide Convo’s innovation and shape our global company.”
Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) also lobbied ICASA for many years for Deaf people to have access to telecommunication services. “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 in the telecommunication industry.” said Bruno Druchen, the National Director of DeafSA and an activist for Deaf Rights.
Convo South Africa National Relay Services will be available to the MTN Subscribers after the conclusion of their 4-month pilot with the ultimate goal of establishing a central NRS solution for all mobile network operators. To learn or subscribe to updates on Convo South Africa’s services, visit convo.co.za.
South African Sign Language interpreters are bound by a Code of Ethics, ensuring impartiality, confidentiality, linguistic and professional competence, as well as professional growth and development. All calls handled are confidential and personal information is relayed securely.