A new service will allow the hearing-impaired and other people with communication disabilities to contact 9-1-1 more easily.

New 9-1-1 text service helps hearing-impaired

People who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard-of-hearing, or speech-impaired will be able to text 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.

A new specialized 9-1-1 text service is now available throughout the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), which will allow people who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard-of-hearing, or speech impaired (DHHSI) to communicate with 9-1-1 call-takers by text.

The service—called Text with 9-1-1 or T9-1-1 is being delivered by E-Comm, the emergency communications centre responsible for answering 9-1-1 calls in the central and southern interior, in partnership with local emergency service agencies. It means that DHHSI people can communicate quickly with police, fire, and ambulance services in the event of an emergency.

“People have to pre-register for the service,” says Jasmine Bradley, a spokesperson for E-Comm. This is done by visiting www.TextWith911.ca to find the correct wireless service provider and register the device.

“When the person initiates a call, it sends an alert that there is a DHHSI person on the line,” explains Bradley. “The call automatically triggers the service.” Even though the 9-1-1 call-taker will still answer the phone verbally, there is no need for the person on the other end to reply. Bradley says that this serves two crucial purposes.

“It’s important for family members who might be using a phone registered with T9-1-1 to know they can speak with someone. And it means the call-taker can hear any background noises. 9-1-1 call-takers rely heavily on background sounds.”

E-Comm was the first provider in Canada to introduce the T9-1-1 service, in 2014. Bradley says that the service is expanding throughout the country, and notes that it is important for people to register for T9-1-1 even if it is not currently available in their region. “If you travel to an area that has the service, you can access T9-1-1 there if your phone is registered.”

There is no charge to register for, or use, the Text with 9-1-1 service. All that is needed is an active wireless subscription with a provider, and a phone that supports making voice calls and texts at the same time. Bradley says people should contact their service provider to see if their current phone will work with T9-1-1.

She also stresses that T9-1-1 is only available to those in the DHHSI community. Voice calling remains the only way to communicate with 9-1-1 services for anyone who is not deaf, deaf-blind, hard-of-hearing, or speech-impaired, although Text with 9-1-1 for the public at large is anticipated in the future as the nationwide 9-1-1 infrastructure evolves.

“T9-1-1 is a vital connection to police, fire, and ambulance and enables quick communication between a deaf caller and emergency services,” says Gordon Rattray, treasurer of the Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf. “In the past, deaf people were limited by communication barriers and would have to use phone relay or telephone typewriter, which would take five or 10 minutes longer. We’re very excited to have T9-1-1 in the interior regional districts, and we look forward to helping promote the availability of this service.”

“For deaf and hard-of-hearing people to be able to use T9-1-1 is a vast improvement on the technology that was previously available,” says Bradley. “It’s a perfect example of how innovation and technology can be used to improve emergency services.”

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