Members of the Deaf, Deafened, Hard of Hearing and Speech Impaired (DDHHSI) community now have access to a new service that will allow them to call 9-1-1 during an emergency and communicate with a call-taker by text message.
The Toronto Police Service and its emergency services partners launched the Text with 9-1-1 service on December 8 at police headquarters.
A special application allows the 9-1-1 call-taker to recognize the call as coming from a registered cell phone that’s associated with a DDHHSI member and enables the call-taker to text with the caller to deal with the emergency.
“To be eligible for the service, users must register with their wireless service provider and they can do so either online or at one of their retail outlets,” said Communications Services Emergency 9-1-1 Voice Services Coordinator Tracy Finn. “When you place that 9-1-1 call from your registered device, a unique indicator shows up for the 9-1-1 call-taker and that is the indication for that call-taker to reach out by text message to the caller.
“The first text message that the caller will receive is ‘This is Toronto 9-1-1, what is the location you need help’. Once you receive that message, the text conversation is open and we can communicate by text. It’s important that both the caller and the call-taker remember that the transaction or the text must be simple. The caller will see a unique code with 13 characters long, starting with the digits 555911 and a multiple sets of digits after. This is the phone number that you will be texting to for the duration of that session. Once the 9-1-1 operator has all the required information that’s needed, we will send an end-of-call message. Once you see that message on your device, you can no longer text to that phone number. If you do, you will receive a message that tells you to start another text session by calling 9-1-1.”
Lisa Faria, the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf Sign Language Service Coordinator, welcomed the new initiative.
“This is something that’s long overdue and it will be extremely helpful to DDHHSI members who need to make emergency calls,” she said. “This is a significant development and one that we embrace.”
TPS Operational Support Services director Kristine Kijewski said the new service is a critical step forward for the deaf community who have relied on costly traditional phone-line-based machines, family, friends or strangers to assist in relaying their emergencies to 9-1-1.
“This is a new way for members of our deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired community to obtain an emergency response in time of need,” she said. “This new independent and mobile access allows for texting with 9-1-1 and it enables members of the DHHSI community to converse with a 9-1-1 call-taker by text message.
“Across Canada, public safety answering points are gradually rolling out this new technology designed to better serve the deaf community. As communications technology advances, so must the ways in which the public connects to 9-1-1… For Toronto, this is the start of a new era, one better equipped to meet the needs of our DHHSI community.”
As the TPS moves to a more mobile and wireless means of communicating, Communications Services Manager Dion Evelyn said it’s imperative that the organization ensures that all community members have access to 9-1-1.
“The premise behind the text with 9-1-1 service is to allow a registered deaf user the freedom to travel across Canada and not be restricted from calling 9-1-1,” he noted. “As more and more public safety answering points implement Text with 9-1-1 service across Canada, there will be fewer geographical limitations.
“…The enhanced network components and technologies for the service feature have put the Toronto Police Service in a better position for future next-generation 9-1-1 services.”
Toronto Paramedic Services Commander Leo Tsang said the introduction of texting with 9-1-1 is an important and progressive step for his organization to better serve the DHHSI community.
“Highly trained emergency dispatchers can more efficiently obtain vital medical information from the caller and this can provide enhanced service to the deaf community,” he said. “This is an additional tool for our dispatchers to better communicate with members of the community when they need it most. We are pleased to be part of this collaboration with our emergency-service partners in this very important initiative.”
Toronto Fire Division Chief Jackie Preston also joined in to announce the new service.
“Our communications staff is prepared and eager to include this new technology and to ensure that everyone in Toronto receives the timeliest response from our fire service,” she said.
“…Recent innovations that may be helpful to the deaf community may also be of use to other citizens. As we age, we tend to lose our ability to hear high-frequency sounds and there are now alarms that emit lower-frequency tones as well as connections to smoke detectors that have shakers for beds and pillows and they can be connected.”
In the last eight months, Peel, York, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Windsor, Vancouver and Calgary have introduced the Text with 9-1-1 service.