Important rights of NRS users clarified

2 November 2011

Two important public watchdogs have recently clarified a number of grey areas concerning the rights of NRS users.

The Disability Discrimination Act, administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), has been a significant landmark since 1992 in ensuring the rights of people with disabilities to access goods and services in the same way as those without disabilities. However, for the first time, the AHRC has specifically set out the rights of NRS users under the Act through a number of FAQs on its website.

The AHRC has made it clear that:

  • Customers of any business or clients of any service provider or government agency in Australia are entitled to access to the organisation’s telephone service using the NRS. This can include situations as wide ranging as ringing a business for information or service, hospital patients making a phone call out to family members or friends, or job-seekers in a job support agency having free phone use. If the service is provided for non-NRS users, it should also be provided for NRS users. Refusal to provide the same service to a person with a disability via the NRS could result in a disability discrimination complaint.
  • Employees who rely on the phone to perform their job duties are entitled to do so using the NRS if they are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. Employers should ensure that staff who need to use the NRS are able to do so easily. This may mean providing them with workplace accommodations such as a TTY or access to internet relay.

In another important development, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) which oversees the Privacy Act 1988 has stated in an FAQ on its website that, in general, information provided to customers via an NRS relay officer is allowed under the Privacy Act.

This clarification is important for NRS users contacting their banks or other financial institutions. Until recently there was doubt around whether the Privacy Act allowed a bank, for example, to discuss certain private financial details with the customer via a relay officer.

The NRS has been making representations to both the AHRC and the OAIC for a number of years. We are pleased that the rights of NRS users have now been made clearer and more specific.

For more information contact the NRS Helpdesk.

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