Communicating without using the National Relay Service

There are a lot of ways that people who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have a speech impairment can communicate directly with other people using smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

The communication options on this page don't go through the National Relay Service (NRS) and aren't recommended for contacting Emergency Services.

Options on this page include:

There is more information about each of these different communications options below.

Email

An icon for email. The icon shows an open envelope. Inside the envelope is a piece of paper containing the @ symbol used in all email addresses.

Electronic mail or email is a way of swapping messages online. Lots of people use email at work and for personal messages. An email message can be as long as you like. You can also add documents, photos and videos to email messages.

What do you need to send and get emails?

  • A smart phone, tablet or computer which is connected to the internet.
  • You will need to set up an email account with a password and your own email address.

What's good about email?

  • You can write and send an email message at any time that suits you. The other person will get the email even if they are busy when you send it.
  • Email can be a mobile service so you can email while you are out.
  • Email uses very small amounts of data.

Extra things to know about emails

  • Email is not a real-time communication option which means that the other person might not receive the email straight away.
  • If you have dexterity or vision issues, typing or reading on a small mobile phone keypad can be hard.

Learning how to use email

The logo for Be Connected. On the left hand side the logo shows the Australian Government crest in black and white. The right hand side shows in purple and white, the words - Be Connected - Every Australian online.

More information about email and an online course you can do yourself about email is available on the Be Connected webpages. You can go straight to the course by clicking this link:
Be Connected using email course.

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SMS (texting)

Icon for text messages on iphone. The icon shows a green button containing a white speech bubble.    Icon for text messages on iphone. The icon shows a green button containing a white speech bubble.

With Short Message Service (SMS) or texting, you can send and get text messages on your mobile phone.

What do you need to send and get SMS text messages?

Any type of mobile phone or a tablet that has either a mobile connection or is linked to a mobile account.

What's good about SMS texting?

  • It's a mobile service so you can text when you are out.
  • You don't need the internet to send and get SMS text messages.
  • The other person will get the text message even if they are busy when you send it.
  • Almost everyone has a mobile phone and sends and gets SMS text messages.

Extra things to know about SMS texting

  • With older phones, you can't send SMS messages that are longer than 160 characters (this includes spaces).
  • If you have dexterity or vision issues, typing and reading on a small mobile phone keypad might be hard.
  • SMS messages usually get to the other person pretty quickly, but sometimes a message can take longer.

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Social networks

Social networks are online communities where you can share (post) information, ideas, content and personal messages. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are social networks. A lot of organisations for people who are deaf, have a hearing impairment and/or have a speech impairment have their own online social networks that you can join.

Twitter logo. The logo shows a blue square containing the image of a white bird.   Instagram logo. The logo shows a multicolored button with a stylised drawing of a white camera in its centre.   Facebook logo. A navy blue square containing a white F.

What do you need to use a social network?

  • A mobile phone, tablet or computer which is connected to the internet.
  • For each social network, you need to set up an account with a password.

What's good about using social networks?

  • You can share and get information from people who are interested in the same thing as you.
  • It can be a mobile service so you can use it while you are out.

Extra things to know about using social networks

  • Posting messages and photos on social networks is not really real-time communication. But you can get quick answers to your messages if other people are on the network at the same time as you.
  • When posting online, you need to be careful to only share your personal information with the right people. It's also a good idea to check your privacy and security settings.

Learning how to use social media

The logo for Be Connected. On the left hand side the logo shows the Australian Government crest in black and white. The right hand side shows in purple and white, the words - Be Connected - Every Australian online.

  • More information about using social networks is available on the Be Connected webpages. There is also an online course about socialising online using Facebook and Twitter that you can do yourself. You can go straight to the course by clicking this link:
    Be Connected connecting and sharing online course.

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Live Chat

A lot of websites have live chat options which let you send and receive messages in a small chat window on their website.

What do you need for live chat?

A smartphone, tablet or computer which is connected to the internet.

What's good about using live chat?

  • Live chat can help you quickly ask questions and find out information when you are thinking of buying or using the services of a website.
  • It can be a mobile service so you can use it while you are out.

Extra things to know about live chat

  • Live chats are usually answered by real people so you might not be able to chat outside of normal business hours.

Apps

Google Hangouts logo The logo features a green rounded speech bubble. In the middle of the green speech bubble are white quotation marks.   Image of Skype logo. The logo has a blue circle which sits on top of a diagonally set blue oval. In the middle of the blue circle is a white letter S.   Image viber logo.

Apps (short for applications) are programs which can do a lot of different things. Some apps might already be on tablets and smartphones when you buy them. Other apps can be downloaded when you want them.  Some apps are free and some have to be paid for. Apps can do a number of different things that can be helpful for people who are deaf, hard of hearing and/or have a speech impairment, like:

  • Send video messages (Glide)
  • Provide vibrating or flash alerts
  • Translate group conversations into text (Ava)
  • Convert speech to text (Dragon, Siri, Live Transcribe, Live Caption).

What do you need to get and use apps?

  • A mobile phone, tablet or computer which is connected to the internet.
  • Apps can be found in the Google Play store (for Android devices) and in the Apple app store.

Google Play logo. The logo is a black horizontal rectangle. On the left it contains the multicolour symbol for play. The right hand side of the logo features the words Get it on Google Play in white.   Apple App Store logo. The logo is a black horizontal rectangle with rounded corners. The left hand side of the recatangle shows the apple logo in white of an apple with a bite taken out of it. The right hand side of the rectangle features the words Download on the App store.

Extra things to know about using apps

You need to be careful about downloading unknown apps. You should also be careful about sharing personal information and possible viruses or malware that might affect your phone, tablet or computer and your personal information.

Learning how to use apps

The logo for Be Connected. On the left hand side the logo shows the Australian Government crest in black and white. The right hand side shows in purple and white, the words - Be Connected - Every Australian online.

The Be Connected website has information about safely using apps. It also has an online course about using apps.

You can go straight to the course by clicking on this link: Be Connected all about apps online course.

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Messaging apps

Messaging apps let you send and receive messages through apps downloaded onto your device. There are lots of different messaging apps. Some messaging apps are:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • WhatsApp
  • Viber
  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Allo
  • Snapchat
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • Beam Messenger
  • WeChat.

The logo for WhatsApp. The logo shows a green speech bubble containing the image of a white fixed line phone handset.   Logo for Snapchat. The logo is a yellow square with a white image of ghost in its centre. The image of the ghost features a black outline.   Messenger logo. The logo is a blue rounded speech bubble. At the centre of the speech bubble is white horizontal image of a lightening bolt.

What do you need to send and get messages through messaging apps?

  • A mobile phone, tablet or computer which is connected to the internet.
  • You need to download a messaging app and set up an account with a password.

What's good about messaging apps?

  • Conversation is "real-time". This means that its quicker to send and get messages using an app than using email or SMS text messaging.
  • Messaging apps can be a mobile service so you can use it while you are out.
  • Most messages are just text-only but some messaging apps let you send voice messages, photos and other documents.
  • Just sending texts doesn't use a lot of data so messaging apps might be cheap for you to use.

Extra things to know about using messaging apps

  • The other person needs to be using the same app.
  • If you have dexterity or vision problems, typing or reading on a small mobile phone keypad can be hard.

Learning how to use messaging apps

The logo for Be Connected. On the left hand side the logo shows the Australian Government crest in black and white. The right hand side shows in purple and white, the words - Be Connected - Every Australian online.

More information and an online course you can do yourself about using the Whatsapp app is available on the Be Connected webpages. You can go straight to the course by clicking this link:
BeConnected how to use Whatsapp course.

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Video call apps

Google Hangouts logo The logo features a green rounded speech bubble. In the middle of the green speech bubble are white quotation marks.   Image of Skype logo. The logo has a blue circle which sits on top of a diagonally set blue oval. In the middle of the blue circle is a white letter S. Video calls let you see the other person while talking or signing to them. You can make and receive video calls through apps downloaded on your device. Some video call apps are Skype, Facebook Messenger, Facetime, Google Hangouts and Viber. Apps such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and Zoom are good for video calls with more than one person. Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and Zoom can also show live captions during a video or vfoice call. See below for more information about Skype with captions.

Image viber logo.   Zoom logo. The logo features a blue circle, Inside the circle is a white image of a video camera.

What do you need to make video calls?

  • A phone, a tablet or a computer with a camera and the internet.
  • You need to download a video calling app and create an account with a password.
  • If you have a Mac, iPhone or iPod, Facetime will already be installed on your device.

What's good about video calls?

  • If you use Auslan and want to contact another Auslan user, you can sign to each other over a video call.
  • If you lip read, a video call will let you listen to the other person and read their lips at the same time.
  • Video calls can be a mobile service so you can video call while you are out.

Extra things to know about making video calls

  • The person you want to call has to have the same app and be online when you call.
  • The other person needs to have a camera and be happy to be on camera.
  • If you want to make a lot of video calls, make sure you have a plan that covers all the data you need.
  • It's also important to have a good internet connection.

Learning how to make video calls

The logo for Be Connected. On the left hand side the logo shows the Australian Government crest in black and white. The right hand side shows in purple and white, the words - Be Connected - Every Australian online.

The Be Connected website includes a course about making video calls using Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime.

You can go straight to the course by clicking this link:
Be Connected making video calls course.

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Captioning Apps

If you like to read captions, either with a video or voice call, the following apps can be helpful:

  • Skype with Captions
  • Live Transcribe
  • Live Caption.

Unlike the captions and chat provided through the National Relay Service, the captions you get with these apps are not fixed up by a relay officer so they may have a few more mistakes.

These apps will give you captions for the other person's words and also for what you say.

Skype Captions

Image of Skype logo. The logo has a blue circle which sits on top of a diagonally set blue oval. In the middle of the blue circle is a white letter S. Skype is a free app that lets you make video and voice calls and send messages using the internet. With Skype, you can also get live captions in English during a voice or video call.

What do you need to use Skype Captions?

  • A phone, a tablet or a computer which is connected to the internet.
  • You need to download Skype and set up an account with a password.

Extra things to know about using Skye Captions

  • Some people may find the captions in Skype a bit small to read, especially on a smartphone.
  • Skype is free to download and calls are free to other Skype account users. Calls can be made from Skype to regular landline and mobile phone numbers for a cost, using Skype credit or a Skype subscription.

Learning how to use Skype with captions

Live Transcribe on Android phones

Live Transcribe logo. The logo is a green square. A white piece of paper is in the centre of the square. On the left hand side of the paper is the image of a microphone to the right is the image of writing. Live Transcribe is a free app which can be downloaded on Android smartphones and tablets (Samsung, Google Pixel, Nokia, Oppo). It can turn any spoken words into English captions which you can read on your phone or tablet.

You can change the Accessibility settings on many Android phones and tablets to turn on Live Transcribe so it turns the speech from the phone's microphone during voice calls to captions that you can read.

What do you need to use Live Transcribe?

  • A phone, a tablet or a computer which is connected to the internet.
  • For older Android phones, you need to download the app Live Transcribe.

What's good about Live Transcribe?

  • Pixel and some newer other Android phones already come with Live Transcribe downloaded.
  • The captions in Live Transcribe can be made bigger if that helps.

Learning how to use Live Transcribe

For instructions and tips on how to turn Live Transcribe on your android phone or tablet, click on this link to a webpage:
Google support webpage for Live Transcribe.

Live Caption on Android phones

Live Caption is an app which automatically comes with Pixel 2 and later version smart phones as well as newer Android phones. Live Caption is an option built into the volume controls which can automatically caption any speech on your smartphone including voice or video calls.

What do you need to use Live Caption?

  • A Pixel 2 smartphone and other newer Android smartphones (Android 10 and upwards).

What's good about Live Caption?

  • Live Caption is easy to turn on. You just press the volume button and tap the Live Caption icon Image of Live Caption icon. The image is a white horizontal rectangle on which appears to be written text. under the volume controls.

Learning how to use Live Caption

For instructions and tips on how to turn on Live Caption if your smart phone has it, click on this link to a webpage:
Google support page for Live Caption.

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Finding helpful apps, devices and device features to help you communicate

When you are thinking of buying a new device—a smartphone, tablet or computer, it can help to ask the sales person what helpful features and apps it comes with.

The website of the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) lists helpful device features and apps.

The Accessible Telecoms website provides independent, up-to-date information on mainstream and assistive telecommunications products suitable for people with disabilities, including people with hearing, speech and cognitive access needs. The Accessible Telecoms website includes a search engine which allows you to search telecommunication devices based on a variety of accessibility features.

The Affordable Access website helps people with a disability choose affordable and easy to use technology. It includes information about accessibility features on popular devices that provide the best deals for an average user on a budget.

Learning about the accessibility features of your smartphone

The logo for Be Connected. On the left hand side the logo shows the Australian Government crest in black and white. The right hand side shows in purple and white, the words - Be Connected - Every Australian online.

If you have smartphone, the Be Connected website includes a video with captions about course about features on your phone which might make it easier to use like making the text bigger or setting up flash alerts for new messages.

You can go straight to the video about iphones by clicking on this link:
Be Connected Iphone accessibility webpage.

You can go straight to the video about android phones by clicking on this link:
Be Connected android phone accessibility webpage.

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