Communicating with people who are deaf or rely on sign language

Communication and Health Literacy

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Two main communication services are available for people who rely on sign language (Auslan) to communicate:

  • the National Relay Service
  • Auslan interpreters.

The National Relay Service

The National Relay Service (NRS) is a free, 24-hour national telephone service for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. It is also available to anyone who wants to call a person with a hearing or speech impairment. Training is free.

All calls through the NRS are relayed through a 'relay officer', who is the central link in every call and stays on the line to make sure calls go smoothly.

Calls can be made by a TTY (a special phone with a small keyboard and screen), Internet relay, video relay, mobile phone or landline phone.

Many options are provided through the NRS to meet people's needs:

  • a person can type/read the conversation entirely via a TTY or Internet relay
  • a person can use video relay to communicate in Auslan
  • the relay officer can be the person's voice and read out a conversation to another person, listen to the response and type it back for the person to read.

For more information go to

Auslan interpreting

If you need an Auslan interpreter, always use one accredited through theNational Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI).

Using other people to interpret is risky. Potential problems include:

  • reduced confidentiality of patient/client information
  • lack of skills in interpreting health information
  • subjective decision-making about the information to be shared
  • lack of quality control
  • ethical issues, including intentional incorrect misinterpreting
  • miscommunication that can affect a person's ability to understand advice given.

Most accredited interpreting services (except NABS Interpreters, see below) charge a fee, however the benefits outweigh the costs – for clients, staff and services.

Responding appropriately to language needs can reduce costs through:

  • better quality of care and self-management
  • lower risks (including clinical and ethical/legal errors)
  • shorter hospital stays and fewer unplanned re-admissions.

The Tasmanian Deaf Society

Tasdeaf has a team of accredited NAATI Auslan interpreters who provide services across Tasmania including in workplaces and health settings. See the Tasdeaf website for information about booking an interpreter, including for after-hours urgent interpreting.

NABS Interpreters

The National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service (NABS) provides interpreters free for private health, allied health or medical care appointments, including specialists in private consulting rooms within hospitals.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sign-language users, interpreters are provided free for private and public health, allied health or medical care appointments.

Quotes are available for interpreting services in public and private hospitals and for other services.

For more information, including to book an interpreter and to see which healthcare providers are covered by NABS, go to the National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service.

Updated December 2018