Over 200 million emergency calls are made every year. Not everyone has the tools to call 911, 999, or 000, depending on where you are.
What would you do if you needed to call for emergency services? Very rarely would your doctor or audiologist sit you down to tell you what you need to do to make a 911 call. We are left unaware of options or services when using 911 for deaf and hard of hearing people.
However, searching for what to do might not even cross your mind until the moment happens.
Imagine you need to help a family member because they injured themselves or someone you don’t know too well suddenly got ill. You’re the only person around to help them.
You feel the pressure of the clock passing every second. You’re worried that searching for someone to help you will delay getting help to the person who needs it the most. You think your only option is to call 911 or press the Emergency Call button on your smartphone.
Nothing goes as smoothly as before when the pressure is on in the intense moment. You’re fumbling to connect your Bluetooth hearing aids with your mobile phone. The connection bounces on and off between other Bluetooth devices, fighting for your audio connection. There’s no time to fix the connection problem now.
You’re the type never to use your phone to call anyone. If you’re deaf, you live for video chats and text messages. As you are trying to get help, you don’t want to use your voice, but it feels like this is your only option to ask for help.
But what happens after your call goes through? If you’re hard of hearing, sometimes the background noises make it difficult to hear. You can’t even make out all the questions the 911 call center personnel ask. You’re suddenly forced to remove yourself from the person you’re seeking help to find an area where you can hear clearly.
Calling 911, 999, or 000 doesn’t have to be just for talking and listening. There are improved emergency services to assist you during an emergency.
In this article, we provide you with your options and the common services available.
Whoever you need to help in the future will thank you for it.
How do deaf people call 911
Calling for an emergency can be done by sending a text to an intermediary or directly to a call center.
All services are free. However, in some cases, you get the service through your mobile phone or internet service plan. You have free access through your pay-as-you-go or subscription plan.
Message Relay Services
Message Relay Service allows a third party or intermediary to talk to emergency services on your behalf. At the same time, you send text messages to the third party to pass along to 911. There are four types of relay services available to make emergency calls.
Back in the days before mobile phones were around, people made calls to an operator using a teletypewriter, or TTY for short. TTY was a device with a keyboard to send messages. TTY would send messages using the same landline telecommunication connection.
RTT is the modern-day version of TTY. You don’t need special hardware to make calls. Using your smartphone is a quick and easy way to access RTT communication anywhere.
Internet Protocol Relay sends messages using an intermediary person. Unlike RTT, the IP Relay is operated directly with your mobile phone provider. Each conversation is made through an online chat feature available on your service provider’s website.
There should be a button in the chat interface to make an emergency call with one click.
Since it uses a website, you can make a chat anywhere around the world. However, getting someone to make an emergency call abroad may be extremely difficult. Typically, only local people can make calls to access emergency services.
Sometimes, texting is not easy to communicate. Especially when the native language isn’t your first language. Video Relay allows you to communicate in sign language to the intermediary person.
Texting directly to 911 with a provider
Sometimes, the idea of having someone in between your calls is not your preference. Sending a text is one way to get help. It allows you to use a mobile phone to make a call no matter where you are.
These special services are available for people with hearing loss or speaking challenges but require preparation to get this available on your phone.
Best practices for texting for help
There are usually three key messages that are needed for help to arrive.
- What’s the problem or situation in one short sentence
- What is needed (police, ambulance, fire)
- Where is help needed (address, build number and street name, or monumental locations)
Cons to deaf and hard of hearing emergency call
- You may need to register in advance. Not all services are available right during an emergency
- You will always need to tell the operator where you are. Current applications cannot provide accurate locations.
- Services are not available country-wide for relay calls. Sometimes, the video service operates at specific times.
- For texting, the technology might not be available at the receiving end. The local emergency services need to have texting technology to receive your message.
- To get a connection, it is dependent on reception or connectivity.
Deaf 911 app
accessSOS is solving the problem in the United States, where not all text-to-911 service is available. Just a few locations have access to text to 911 services in the US. It has been reported that it might take many years before all 911 call centers can access the text to 911.
AccessSOS web app will send a text to 911. It has an easy interface to collect all the information they need to give to the 911 call centers.
This app was one of the first of its kind. However, they appear to be no longer in service. Their online page is out of order, and the X (formerly known as Twitter) page has not been posted in a while.
Emergency calls around the world
Americans using 911
Americans can check to see if the Text to 911 is available locally.
First, see if you have the RTT available on your smartphone under the accessibility setting to start using the modern version of TTY.
Canadians using 911
Texting – T911
T911 isn’t run and operated by a single organization. It was developed by a committee with members of the wireless service providers, 911 call centers, and other emergency call center service providers working together to build a solution for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Getting set up for texting for emergency services
- Check your smartphone or mobile phone is compatible with T911
- Register for the T911 Service with your mobile phone service provider. (Registering is as quick as texting to a specific number given in the instructions by your provider).
- Send a text by messaging the 911 number as you would any text message in an emergency.
Video Relay to access emergency service
In Canada, Canada VRS is the service provider for making video calls. CAV is the organization operating Canada VRS that acts as a middleman between you and the 911 call center.
CAV licenses the application and the sign language interpreters to deliver emergency services. They are stand-alone services that work on your behalf. They’re not operating under the direction of the local emergency services.
You can use CAV for children, work, or personal use.
Getting set up with VRS
- You’ll need to have the Canada VRS downloaded on your phone.
- Download the app for your desktop or mobile device
- Register your account
- Ensure your address is up to date
- Select the 9-1-1 feature during an emergency call
- Your call will be a top priority over other non-emergency video relay calls
- The agent will relay the address registered on your account or request your current location along with other details.
Contact your mobile or internet service provider for their IP relay.
Many programs like Skype offer IP Relay services in Canada as well.
Other Relay Options
Since 2022, infrastructure change has been made to allow for real-time text. RTT is referred to as NG9-1-1, Next Generation 911. This telecommunication infrastructure will allow for real-time text. In the meantime, TTY and T911 is the better texting option until your local area has been set up.
UK 999 emergency services for the deaf
UK residents can use their mobile phones to text messages using emergencySMS. Set up to make emergency calls.
- Text ‘REGISTER’ to 999
- You’ll receive a message with terms and conditions.
- Read and accept the terms by sending back a text ‘YES’
British sign language can be used as a communication method in the UK to make emergency calls. People can use the 999 BSL app to contact an emergency services call handler. They can communicate visually via a video call without texting, especially if English is not their first language.
The BSL app needs to be downloaded on your mobile phone to activate.
Relay UK also offers people the option to text using an intermediary. You’ll need to download the app to get started and set up to use the app’s emergency call feature.
Australia 000 emergency services for the deaf
In Australia, they use a middleman service called the National Relay Services (NRS). You can access this service via a website on your phone or computer.
The relay service allows you to text your message, and the Relay Officer receives the message and makes the 000 call for emergency services on your behalf. They also send you communication that these emergency services provide as well.
What to type during an emergency
FFF for Fire
PPP for Police
AAA for Ambulance
Type the street address or exact location of the emergency
Type GA for “Go Ahead”
Other ways to reach for help
Australia also provides video relay services, but video relay services operate typically during working hours and not during the late evening or late night hours.
If you still own a TTY device, you can still make phone calls using the relay services.
Emergency services have become more accessible and easier to use in recent years. There will be a day when texting and video calling 911, 999, or 000, will be common for anyone. Whether you want to lip-read, read close captions, text, or even sign for support, the options will be there immediately.
No more need for a middleman or worrying about internet services or if the emergency call center can take your text or call.
It is a matter of time before it will be easier for anyone to make a call without listening or speaking directly to the emergency call center.
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