A more accessible 9-1-1

Service helps deaf and speech impaired in emergencies

As of March 26, emergency services in Waterloo will be taking a step towards greater accessibility for community members.

Text with 9-1-1 is a service that will allow deaf, deafened, hard of hearing and speech impaired residents to more easily and effectively communicate with emergency personnel.

“I’ve heard some of my coworkers or other deaf community members say in the past they wouldn’t call 9-1-1 say, if they saw an accident or something, they wouldn’t report it because it would just be too much trouble,” explained Amanda Moorhead, manager of administration at the Waterloo chapter of the Canadian Hearing Society.

Currently, the only methods for the deaf community to contact emergency personnel are by using their teletype machines — which are only located in their home — or by seeking the assistance of someone else, which poses the problem of how to communicate their emergency effectively.

The launch of the service is a product of various partnerships in and around the Waterloo area. Moorhead explained that the CHS was first contacted separately by Kitchener Fire Fighting Services and the Waterloo Regional Police Service. Then CHS contacted Waterloo Fire Rescue, the police and fire departments in Guelph, as well as services in Brantford and Stratford.

“I was amazed how many of these emergency services wanted to be involved and were interested in our feedback,” Moorhead said.

Individuals will need to register their cell phone through their communications provider with Text with 9-1-1.

In the event of an emergency they still need to call 9-1-1, but the dispatcher will be able to see that their phone is registered with the service and will send them a text message.

“This is the first time we’re launching into something like this, so this is really an opportunity to level the playing field for the segment of the community who has not been able to reach us in the same manner as everyone else,” said Olaf Heinzel, public affairs coordinator for WRPS.

He continued that once the phone has been registered with Text with 9-1-1, they can use it with any 9-1-1 centre that has the service. The service is gradually being established across the country.

Moorhead said they are hoping to see a lot of engagement from the deaf and hard of hearing community. Their information sessions will be interpreted in American Sign Language, which will allow them to accurately get information.

“It’s also a great opportunity for them to ask questions of the emergency services,” Moorhead said. “See how the service will work and clear up any questions they may have around it so they feel confident to use it when they need it.”

Information sessions will be held on March 24 in Guelph and March 25 in Kitchener.

“The important thing is that we try to provide service to every member of the community,” Heinzel said. “And to try to provide the best possible service to everyone.”

Moorhead emphasized that this is just one step towards making communities more accessible.

“I once heard someone say something along the lines of, ‘If there were no barriers, there would be no such thing as a disability,’ ” she said. “So anywhere where we can break down barriers and give equal footing and equal opportunity for everyone in the community is just fantastic.”

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