Accessible text-to-911 service to support people with hearing disabilities in Ottawa
Ottawa’s authorities announced the availability of a mechanism that allows deaf and hard hearing individuals to text 911. This service comes as an improvement to former emergency communication systems that used to rely on a TTY or teletypewriter system that transmitted text directly to security offices. However, this solution was rather limited because it required the individual to go back home in order to write an emergency message.
The new text to 911 solution allows people with hearing disabilities to make emergency calls directly from their cell phones. The communication process starts with the registration of the users’ cell phones with their service provider. Once they have signed up, the subscriber is able to call 911 and immediately let the operator identify him or her as an individual that requires a texting session. The call taker will adapt to the needs of the caller and will find the best ways to communicate either by texting on both sides, providing verbal indications or listening to the information and writing back in response.
However, the implementation of these mechanisms required additional guidance for both the call takers and the callers. Some tips offered for the users are to avoid texting while driving, include clear information about their emergency, text using concise language and refrain from sending videos or pictures. On the other side, the call takers have received technical and behavioral training in order to successfully follow the communication process.
According to the Canadian Hearing Society, 911 texting is a step forward, however, there is still room for future improvements such as video services that allow communication via sign language.