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Text to 9-1-1: Disability Community Abolishes Huge Barrier

April 07, 2014

Imagine that you’re deaf or speech-impaired and have witnessed an accident.  You know your civic duty is to call 911so that people get the help they need – but you can’t hear the dispatcher and he or she may not be able to understand your voice, either.

As a solution, Text with 911 or T9-1-1 was developed.

Pinnacle jobs blog telephone interview Text to 9 1 1: Disability Community Abolishes Huge Barrier

“CRTC Interconnection Steering Committee (CISC) Emergency Services Working Group (ESWG). The CISC ESWG participants include wireless carriers, 9-1-1 service providers, Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) organizations, representatives of hearing- and speech-impaired persons, and other interested parties.”  In development for over two years prior, “The T9-1-1 service was tested with volunteers from the deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, and speech impaired community in the spring and summer of 2012 in Vancouver, Toronto, Peel Region, and in Montreal. Their observations were positive and their comments helped to develop and improve the service.”

Having voice-only 9-1-1 is a barrier to safety and equality, and disempowers those who cannot use the service due to hearing or speech impairment. Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC states that, “Services such as 911 are critical to the health and safety of all Canadians. This initiative is a perfect example of how technology can be used to improve access to 911 services for Canadians with disabilities.”

The CRTC emphasizes that one must call, not text the emergency number in order to reach T9-1-1 emergency services.  The voice call establishes direct contact with the 9-1-1 call centre.  The order of events are as follows:

• The connection provides the dispatcher with the caller’s mobile number as per a standard 9-1-1 call.
• The number will be used to start a text messaging program with the caller.
• The dispatcher is able to use the phone number and other technologies to identify the approximate location of the cell phone.
• Using a voice connection enables T9-1-1 technology to also establish a voice channel that enables the dispatcher to hear any background noises that can inform the call-taker of the call’s context and to provide enhanced 9-1-1 functions.

CTV News states that as of now the service is available “across a wide region of Metro Vancouver, north to Pemberton and the Sunshine Coast.” The service is also available in Calgary. T9-1-1 service provider E-Comm states that “similar T911 capability is planned for other centres across Canada. At some point in the future, T911 will be followed by text service for all cellphone users.”

Text With 9-1-1’s Comprehensive List of Facts on T9-1-1

• An active wireless subscription and supported cell phone are required to use T9-1-1.
• Generally, 3G and 4G and GSM cell phones support T9-1-1.
• Contact your wireless service provider to confirm if your cell phone model will work with T9-1-1.
• The T9-1-1 service must be activated in an area before it can be accessed.
• Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) must be deployed in the area.
• The service is only available to people who are deaf, deafened, hard of hearing or speech impaired (DHHSI).
• When the DHHSI person requires 9-1-1 services, they dial 9-1-1 on their cell phone. There is no need for them to speak, as the 9-1-1 call taker will receive an indicator that tells them to communicate with the caller via text messaging. The 9-1-1 call taker then initiates text messaging with the caller to address the emergency.
• Local 9-1-1 centres will attempt to honour your language choice (English or French) on a best effort basis.
• T9-1-1 calls require more time than a voice call to communicate with emergency services.

Regarding T9-1-1 for those who do not meet the above criteria, CBC states that “The regulator said that in 2014-15, it will conduct a study on the future of Canadian 911 services.”  More information regarding T9-1-1 is available here.

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