The government plans to launch a telephone relay service to enable people with hearing disabilities to chat online via sign language, government officials said Thursday.
Japan will be the last of the Group of Seven advanced countries to launch such a service for people who cannot make voice calls and aims to start the service within a few years, the officials said.
It will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at a cost similar to voice calls.
There are approximately 350,000 people nationwide with hearing difficulties or speech disorders.
The plan will be included in a draft report to be compiled in the near future by a joint working group of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the officials added.
To fund the service, the government plans to impose special fees on phone users.
With the new service, customers will contact an operator via a website equipped with a video-calling function. The operator will help them communicate simultaneously with people without hearing disabilities via sign language or by speaking text messages out loud, the officials said.
It is expected that people with hearing impairments will be able to talk with a much wider range of people, which would, for example, allow them to make restaurant reservations and contact providers of public services.
Eventually, the service will facilitate emergency calls and let those without hearing impairments make calls to those with hearing disabilities.
Unlike free communication applications, the caller and receiver will not need to use the same service, the officials said.
The Nippon Foundation and other groups and firms have been offering similar services on a limited scale.
The trial service provided by the Nippon Foundation has almost 10,000 registered users but isn’t usable early in the morning or late at night. Emergency calls are also not allowed, according to the foundation.
Even after the government starts offering the service, “It needs to publicize the service to many people, including those without hearing difficulties,” a Nippon Foundation official said.
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