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Accessible emergency services around the world

accessible emergency services
When an emergency happens, most people can pick up the phone and dial emergency services. This is often a three digit number like 112 in parts of Europe, and 911 in the US. But what if you can’t hear, or have a difficult time using the phone?

Thankfully, some countries are doing to make emergency services accessible.

The TTY: An Outdated Form of Communication

During the pandemic, lack of accessibility in emergency services has become apparent. Some places are still pushing for interpreters to be on screen during coverage about Covid-19. 

Although seen by many within the D/deaf community to be an outdated form of communication, some emergency services still require calling in by TTY. Text Telephone Relay or Telecommunications Relay Service, are generally made using a text telephone (TTY) with communications device equipped with a keyboard for typing and a screen for reading messages.

Many think email and smartphones have made this service obsolete, but sometimes it is still offered. It is important to be proactive. Look up your local emergency services and see if a TTY is required for you to access emergency services. Perhaps another communication method is available or can be used to bypass this requirement.

Read more: UK fights for BSL interpreters for COVID briefings 

Text Messaging 

For many of us, our cell phones are an extension of ourselves. This means we usually have our cell phones beside us all day. This is helpful in an emergency situation, as you may be able to contact emergency services by text message.

“You may be able to contact emergency services by text message.”

The process is different for each area. Some examples:

  • In the UK, register for emergencySMS services by texting REGISTER to 999. For more information check out RelayUK 
  • Depending on where you live in the US, your area may have a text relay option. There are currently over 2,800 counties that use text services. The Federal Communications Commission updates a spreadsheet of text 911 options on an ongoing basis.
  • In Guam, you can text the fire department at 322.

Using a Video Phone During Emergencies

Using a video phone for emergencies is an effective way to get help when needed. Depending on where you live, you can use your video phone to call for emergency services and not have to deal with text or TTY options. In the United States, most places that require a TTY can be bypassed when using an interpreter on a video phone. This includes emergency services. 

Some places require you to download an app in order to utilize their accessible options for contacting emergency services. One such place is in the Netherlands, where a person must download the Tolkcontact app — which is only in Dutch — in order to call 112. This service is for the deaf, hard of hearing and those with speech impediments.

Note that for most video relay services, if you are outside of the country of origin, then calls to emergency services will not work.

Read more: 3 ways to prepare for an emergency as a deaf person

Preparing for an Emergency 

It is important to be prepared for emergency situations. As you create an emergency plan, be sure to look up all the things available to you for accessibility. Know your rights, and how to ask for accessibility in different situations. If you wear hearing aids, be sure to keep a pack of batteries nearby just in case you need them in an emergency. Above all else, do not panic. It is easier to act when in a rational state of mind.

Read More: Tips and Apps to help Deaf people prepare for an emergency

Author Details
Hello, my name is Catalleya Storm (they/them). I work to bring awareness to issues impacting the Black, Deaf, disabled and LGBTQ communities. I was born hearing but started losing my hearing in my late teens. I identify as Deaf/HOH, with the understanding that I am apart of both the hearing world and the Deaf world. I believe that we all can bring about positive change in the world, and that’s what I hope to do with the time I have here.