Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been incredibly proud of my team of 999 call centre agents for putting the needs of the UK public first to fulfil their critical role. As well as acting as the first responders in answering over 30 million 999 calls a year, our specially trained experts are on hand to help people with hearing and speech difficulties to communicate over the phone. This service, called Relay UK, can be a vital lifeline for the deaf and hard of hearing community. There are currently 12 million people in the UK who experience hearing loss and, without this service, using the traditional telephone to contact friends, family and access critical public services would pose a huge barrier.
In an emergency, Relay UK enables a user to alert the police, ambulance, fire, or coastguard services by either connecting via a Relay agent based in one of BT’s centres, or by texting a message to 999 using BT’s emergency SMS service. As well as providing a vital service for emergency calls, Relay UK is used widely by the deaf community to make phone calls to access other key services, such as to make a doctor’s appointment or access healthcare advice, to call a bank, or simply to call friends and family. During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, our Relay assistants were dealing with unprecedented levels of demand, answering 2,500 calls on the busiest days.
Connecting for good
This peak in demand for the Relay UK service highlights its importance in helping the deaf community to stay connected. At BT, we’ve led the development of Relay UK on behalf of stakeholders across the deaf and hard of hearing community, such as Action on Hearing Loss, UK Council on Deafness, National Deaf Children’s Society and Hearing Link, as well as for customers of all other UK phone providers. BT’s technology enables a user to easily make a call based on their own accessibility needs, providing vital independence for many users. After downloading the Relay UK app, the user can connect to a call after selecting one of three options: Type & Read, Speak & Read, or Type & Hear. BT’s research shows that phone calls remain an essential form of communication for 80 per cent of the deaf community, with 46 per cent of them calling businesses at least once a week.
Celebrating our colleagues
I’m in awe of my team of key workers at BT who work tirelessly to handle both 999 and Relay UK calls across our BT call centres. Hear from one of our everyday heroes in a short video that outlines the incredible work of our Relay UK assistants.