While we hope these situations never occur, the best we can do is be prepared. During my teenage years as a boy scout, that was one of the things drilled into me. So, along with “hope for the best, plan for the worst” and “failure to plan is planning to fail,” I’ve put together a list of emergency apps for the Deaf and hard of hearing that can be lifesaving in emergency situations.
Here in South Africa, an app called Namola has just released an update, aimed at those with hearing loss and speech impediments. An option in the app allows the user to change their profile settings and indicate their disability. When you activate the app in an emergency, the recipient will text you instead of trying to call. This gives people with hearing loss the best chance to explain their situation and save precious seconds. They will then dispatch the appropriate emergency services to your location.
Curious about what the options are for those living in other parts of the world, I took to Twitter to ask a few other emergency services providers across the globe what means of communication they knew of.
The Los Angeles Police Department (@LAPD) were the first to respond. They mostly use Text-to-911 to communicate with those with hearing loss, they said. However, there aren’t standard apps that are widely used in 911, at least not in California, to their knowledge.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a set of guidelines to make use of the Text-to-911 service here. They advise checking whether your area’s call centre supports Text-to-911 , as not all of them have the capacity. In the event that they don’t support it in your area, the FCC recommends that you make use of a TTY or telecommunications relay service, if possible.
The Victorian Ambulance service in Australia are currently looking into whether there are any apps available for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to make contact with them in an emergency situation, though they are not, at present, aware of any that might be recommended. I have attempted to make contact with the Victoria Police service at their recommendation, but have yet to receive any response.*
On the balance of the available evidence, I would say that there is much that could be done to improve accessibility to emergency services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – and there is a niche available for those who have the skills and knowledge to provide this kind of service!
It’s not just a service to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, either. I’d advise those who do look into developing this kind of functionality in communication apps to promote the value of text-based emergency communication to wider society – it protects the more vulnerable of our elders, who are more likely to have developed age-related hearing loss (and many of whom are undiagnosed and/or don’t wear hearing aids), allows for communication where noise would compromise safety.
I’m going to keep banging on this drum, however. When it comes to dealing with the complaints of our community we must help others to help us. People cannot know what they do not know, and unless we make them aware of our needs, they can’t change to include us.
Don’t forget – Be Prepared!
*As I receive responses from these services I will update these sections of this article.
Have any more tips? Let us know in the comments!