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. josh.pen­nell@thetele­


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