A thank you letter to my hearing loss
November 22, 2018
how we pursued a cochlear implant for our child
Phonak Teen Advisory Board: Meet Emmy
November 27, 2018

Tips and Apps to help Deaf people prepare for an emergency

Emergency Apps for the Deaf

Fires, car crashes, active crime – there are so many situations where one might need to call for help – and for people with hearing loss, communicating during these times can be difficult, making a dangerous situation into a more extremely life-threatening one.

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.

Apps and Text-to-911

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.*

In the UK, you can send an emergency SMS text to 999. You can also get the Next Generation Text Relay app and follow these instructions

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.

Read more: 3 Ways to Prepare for an Emergency as a Deaf Person

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.

6 more tips to help deaf people prepare for emergencies:

  1. Do a First Aid course
  2. Keep a First Aid kit both at home and in your car
  3. Keep a writing pad and pen/pencil handy. This is necessary if you need to ask someone else for assistance and can’t communicate verbally. 
  4. If you need assistance, make a scene and directly ask for help. In other words, attract attention and make sure you point at and ask an individual to help. General pleas tend not to work out too well, as people often freeze in a crisis. Hand someone the responsibility, and they’re more likely to act.
  5. Have a plan for if someone enters your home. Pick a safe room that you can lock yourself and your loved ones into and isolate yourselves from the intruder. Rather let your things go than risk your lives!
  6. Don’t play the hero. Every First Aid course should teach the “3 H’s” – Hazards, Hello, Help. Hazards means check for danger to yourself first, as if you make yourself another victim, you make the rescuers’ job harder. Hello means just that – greet the victim and let them know you’re there to help. Taking control of the situation and calming someone down does a lot to solve the crisis. Help – call for help! Get professionals to the scene as soon as possible, with clear, valid information.

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!

Author Details
Mark was discovered to have severe hearing loss – total loss in his left ear, severe in the right – at the age of 3, owing to a Cytomegalovirus infection. He grew up as part of the mainstream community, and only started regularly wearing hearing aids at the age of 15, when his hearing loss dropped to profound levels. Rugby has always been a passion of his, and he’s never stopped playing since getting his first opportunity in high school. His greatest claim to fame is playing for the South African Deaf Rugby team, a position he also uses to advocate for the Deaf community. However, he is afflicted with an interest in anything and everything, which manifests in limitless Star Wars puns, comments on the things making up the fabric of society, requests for your favourite banana bread recipes, a predilection for painting 28mm sci-fi models and the inability to fit into any of the proverbial descriptive “boxes” society likes to place people in. He currently lives in Durban with his wife, Amy.