In Colombia, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies, in partnership with the Federación Nacional de Sordos de Colombia [National Federation of Deaf People of Colombia](FENASCOL), created the Relay Centre, an interactive online platform designed to include deaf people in society by enabling them to communicate and exchange information with hearing people easily, independently and on a regular basis.
Deaf citizens access the platform via the Internet from computers or smartphones and communicate with sign language interpreters who interpret the signed message into spoken language for the hearing person on the telephone and then sign back to the deaf user. This service is free for users and operates every day.
This solution enables deaf people to communicate with friends and relatives, utilize government services, book medical appointments, coordinate meetings and access information. It therefore enables them to participate more actively in society, build connections and establish their path with independence. It also supports their social, economic, and political inclusion, thereby preventing inequalities.
In Colombia, the Relay Centre began operating in 2001 with coverage limited to the city of Bogota. It relied on text telephones and was led by FENASCOL. In 2003, in partnership with the Office of the Mayor of Bogota, a helpline was established; however, it only covered the capital. National coverage was achieved in 2006, thanks to an agreement signed with Telefonica Telecom, a private sector telecommunications company. In 2009, the Colombian Ministry of Information and Communications Technology pledged its full support to make the service available for free and to expand it to video chat capabilities. For July 2020, the Centre relayed over 3.4 million of bidirectional calls and provided over 83,000 online interpretation services. Each month, around 35,000 calls are received, and there are over 53,700 active users.
The Relay Centre has been replicated in Paraguay with the support of the Colombian Presidential Agency of International Cooperation (APC-Colombia) and the Technical Secretariat for Economic and Social Development Planning of Paraguay. Through the exchange of knowledge and experiences for reciprocal benefits, the National Federation of Deaf People of Colombia provided advice to the Paraguayan Association of the Deaf in creating and implementing a similar system. Technical assistance for the design of the system for the operation of the Centre was provided, as well as training for the professional team and sign language interpreters, which involved technical visits in both countries.
As a result, Paraguay inaugurated the Accessible Communication Relay Centre for the Deaf in April 2013, and it constituted an historic milestone in terms of access to information and communication for deaf people in Paraguay. The Center currently has only the service for relay calls (deaf – hearing), and the access to the platform only through computers.
A second phase of cooperation (2018-2020) is currently ongoing to improve the Centre's services. The objective is to achieve the bidirectional communication (deaf-hearing and hearing-deaf) and access the platform through mobile phones. The cooperation and exchange of knowledge include a technical diagnostic to implement the new platform, support for installing the new services, and training for the technical team of sign interpreters.
Its commitment to improve and increase the services offered to citizens is remarkable. In 2019, the Paraguay Relay Centre registered nearly 1,000 monthly calls with 522 registered users. In 2018, the Centre participated in creating a Digital Sign Language Dictionary (Signario) of approximately 2,500 signs. According to the Technical Secretariat for Economic and Social Development Planning of Paraguay, the Dictionary was validated by national organizations associated with the National Federation of Deaf People of Paraguay. The Paraguay Relay Centre currently has an agreement with the public television channel in Paraguay to provide live interpretations of newscasts, as well as sessions of the National Congress that facilitate the inclusion of deaf people.
Successful replication of the Relay Centre requires political will, represented by laws that guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. There must also be a fruitful dialogue between groups representing the deaf community and the national Government to provide momentum for sustainability. Strategic partnerships must be developed with private sector companies who can promote and support the centre within its portfolio of services. In addition, sign language interpreters must have access to education and training. And the Internet and equipment such as a computer, tablet or smartphone are also required.