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News : Region’s Deaf Residents Will Soon Be Able to Text with 911
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, March 15, 2015 -- Kathy O'Neil remembers when she asked a child to call the police for her.
"I don't like to do that on kids but I had no choice," she told a Record reporter in an interview conducted through text messages.
She, along with many others in Waterloo Region and Guelph's deaf communities, are thrilled to see a texting service for the hearing and speech impaired.
They can now text message police through the new service called Text with 911.
"If an emergency happened away from home they would have to wait until they got home to use TTY (teletypewriter) or have someone call police for them," said Amanda Moorehead, manager of administration at the Waterloo chapter of the Canadian Hearing Society, in a telephone interview.
She worked closely with the region's emergency response teams to develop and test the new service.
Users can registerfor the service through their cellphone carriers.
Although they must still dial 911 first, the call centre recognizes the caller as a registered Text with 911 user and text messages them back to ask about the nature of their emergency and their location.
O'Neil is an employment consultant at the Canadian Hearing Society and helped the team phrase their canned text responses.
For example, instead of "the unit has been dispatched" she suggested using the phrase "help is on the way."
Instead of the word "patient" the service might use "a person who is sick or hurt."
She suggested they use plain language because American Sign Language is the first language of many of the service's potential users.
Moorehead pointed out that there is no sign in American Sign Language for the word "weapon," a term typically used by police services.
"They would have to be more specific and say 'knife' or 'gun,'" she said.
O'Neil will no longer need to find someone to call 911 on her behalf.
"We can be more independent and be less stressed about how to get help," she said.
O'Neil shared a story about a deaf friend who got a flat tire on Highway 401 and couldn't use her phone to call anyone for help. She was stranded for hours until someone stopped to help her.
"Normally if it happens to a hearing person, 911 will not consider it an emergency and advise them to call elsewhere," O'Neil said. "But with text 911 they will contact help for us."
In 2013, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission urged all cellphone providers to enable the service by 2014.
While many provinces adopted the texting services in 2014, Ontario's municipalities required more time to implement the service within their 911 call centres. Moorehead said Ontario is expecting full service by the end of 2015.
The service has been tested internally and also put through focus groups in the deaf community.
"It is immensely important and I think many people see it as an extra service," Moorehead said. "It is levelling the playing field and making it equal for everyone."
The Canadian Hearing Society is the largest charitable agency in Canada providing the hearing impaired with services and support since 1940.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, March 18, 2015