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ER24’s state-of-the-art contact centre is designed to dispatch real help, real fast. However, for those who are deaf, hearing- or speech-impaired, making an emergency phone call isn’t feasible. A new service changes all that.

Sign language in South Africa

At least 400,000 South Africans are known to use sign language and in 2023, sign language became the 12th official language in South Africa. In 2022, to support people with disabilities, ER24 together with Vodacom, launched an innovative service to empower the deaf, hearing- and speech-impaired community.

This National Relay Service (NRS) is exclusively available to registered Vodacom customers who are deaf, hearing- and speech impaired. It serves to reinforces ER24 as an inclusive, forward-thinking organisation dedicated to serving its varied clients.

How ER24’s National Relay Service works

Tumi Ndlovu, Team Leader: ER24 National Relay Service explains that a caller with speech or hearing disabilities is now able to request emergency medical assistance for themselves or a family member via video. “The National Relay  Officer who attends the video call then works as an intermediary ,” Tumi says. “Whatever information they get from the ER24 Emergency Resource Officer, they relay back to the customer via sign language.”

In effect, Relay Officers act as a ‘relay’ or a bridge between people with hearing or speech impairments, and hearing individuals. They are the central link in any relay call, re-speaking what the deaf user is saying and relaying what is said by each party.

The people behind the service

There are currently 10 National Relay Officers, five are qualified South African Sign Language Interpreters (SASLIs) and five are able to assist with voice related queries from blind and paraplegic patients.

Tsakani Baloyi is one of the SASLI’s at National Relay Service. “I learned sign language in high school because I was trying to impress a deaf boy that I had a crush on,” she admits. “But I'm very grateful that I did learn sign language because I, of course, made a lot of more deaf friends and I get to help out the deaf community on a daily basis.”

With this video-based service, the broader disabled community is now able to reach out to ER24 when they need emergency medical assistance.

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