Help will soon be a text away
New 911 service will aid people with hearing loss, speech impediments
An enhancement to 911 emergency services is being hailed by the local Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) as a change that could mean the difference between life and death.
Leon Mills, the executive director of CHHA Newfoundland and Labrador, says a new 911 texting service announced Monday by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will help thousands, and perhaps even millions, of Canadians.
“A lot of hard of hearing people, they have a phone, but text messaging is their life,” says Mills.
“They don’t use it for speech. A lot of people, they use it for text messaging.”
The CHHA has been lobbying for the service, which allows people with hearing loss or speech impediments to communicate with 911 services via text message. Bell Mobility engineer Francis Fernandes and CHHA board member Arthur Rendall were leaders in making the idea a reality.
Initially, some critics suggested the service would cost too much. In 2012, the CRTC held a trial run of the service to assess the feasibility of rolling it out nationally.
It will be available across Canada by Jan. 24, 2014. Telephone and wireless companies have until that date to make upgrades to their networks to support the new feature.
The way it will work is people with hearing loss or speech impediments will register their mobile phone number with their service provider. They can then text the 911 service rather than having to call, and the respondent can text back to get the info they need.
Mills says people tend to recognize the deaf as needing a support service, but they’re not the only ones who will benefit.
“It’s not just for deaf people. A lot of people don’t understand that.”
People with hearing aids may seem like they hear fine, Mills says.
What people might not understand is that a lot of factors can affect how well that person hears in a given situation. Hearing aids pick up everything, not just what the person wants to hear clearly, so a bad connection or background noise can have a drastic effect on how well somebody can hear. Some voices carry better than others and some accents are more easily deciphered by the hard of hearing, he says.
Mills has two hearing aids, so he knows first hand the value of this kind of a service.
“I do very well. I’m lucky that way, but there are times when there’s just background noise and stuff like that. I can hear people talking, but I just can’t understand a word being said.”
Since this is a service where time and efficiency are imperative, adding a text option for those who need it is not just a matter of con- venience.
“If it was in an emergency situation - plus it’s a panic situation - so trying to understand somebody on the phone can be extremely difficult. That can be the difference between life and death,” Mills says.
Members of the local CHHA rely on texting so much that last year Mills’ group set up a num- ber just for that purpose. If people text to 709-725-3224, staff from this province’s CHHA will get back to them via text and they can communicate that way.
“That’s become quite the standard, the norm, for a lot of people who are hard of hearing. That’s their main form of communication,” says Mills.
The CHHA is encouraging people to stay in touch with them to receive the most up-todate information on the service. firstname.lastname@example.org