News : Hearing Impaired Can Text 911
Brockville, ON, Canada, July 24, 2015 -- The mere ability to call 911 is something that most people don’t think twice about, but in the past it wasn’t that simple for the deaf community.
Now, a new text-to-911 service was recently launched in Brockville, making emergency services more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. For the first time, those who live or travel in Brockville will be able to use text messaging to connect with 911.
The provincewide program was locally organized and implemented by the Brockville Police Service and the fire department in association with the local branch of the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS).
Anna Strati-Morrison, regional program director for the CHS, has been involved in the testing and implementation of the new service for the last two years, working with Bell Canada to establish the systems, which is what took the longest.
"It always takes advocacy work. The advocacy process takes a long time," Strati-Morrison signed through her interpreter Kym Murray, an ASL/English interpreter for the CHS.
"As deaf people we’re always advocating, always pushing for access all of our lives for different things. It takes getting organizations like the fire department involved who have the contacts to fight, but even doing that took years."
The city announced its new readiness for the program earlier this month, and Strati-Morrison was involved in testing the system which took around two years to complete.
This comes following a 2013 decision from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) saying that telephone and wireless companies must upgrade their networks to support this new feature. Previously, people with hearing impairments needed to use a teletypewriter (TTY) machine in their home to call authorities.
But Strati-Morrison said TTY is becoming obsolete because people haven’t been using it since the advent of smartphones. She described the program as a huge step forward in making a vulnerable sector of the community feel more safe.
"It’s important that a deaf person can communicate in accident situations when they hurt themselves and still text and know someone is coming for them. It’s primarily safety and knowing they can trust the system to respond to their needs now."
She said the number of people in the community who could benefit from the text-to-911 program may be surprising.
"It’s not just people who are deaf, it’s also people who are hard of hearing could register for this as well," she said.
"Our statistics at the Canadian Hearing Society is that one in every four people in Canada have a hearing loss of some sort. So there’s around 18-20 culturally deaf people in the Brockville area but as far as people with a hearing loss who could register for the system, it’s one in four people."
Strati-Morrison said there are no interpreters in Brockville, and they have to be called in from Kingston if needed. The Brockville office for the Canadian Hearing Society recently closed its doors due to a funding reduction, but all of the same programs and services will still continue with representatives from the society’s Kingston site.
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This is the second safety initiative of its kind in recent months, following the announcement of the "Sightline to Safety" program – a visual fire alarm for the deaf and hard of hearing.
While hearing impairments are not a new phenomenon, it took so long for the technology to be developed because the equipment is generally expensive.
"The deaf community is a minority community, and it’s certainly viewed that way," said Strati-Morrison.
"We’re also seen as very expensive. People tell us we’re expensive. We’re often at the bottom of the barrel for things."
When a call to 911 is placed, the registered phone will be recognized by the call centre as one that is eligible for text messaging. The call centre will then send a text message to begin an emergency response to the call.
A phone that is not registered will not work with text-to-911.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Brockville Police Service:
The Brockville Police Service provides policing services for Brockville, the community of the Thousand Islands region on the St. Lawrence River in Eastern Ontario, Canada.
About Canadian Hearing Society:
Provides services that enhance the independence of deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people, and that encourage prevention of hearing loss.
Published: Monday, July 27, 2015
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