As technology develops, it can open up services and access for people with disabilities. TTY telephone devices have long helped to bridge communication gaps for people with deafness and hearing loss by using text based communication in place of an audio conversation.
With the proliferation of cell phones, texting is a common and fluid part of phone conversations and can be accomplished without specialized devices or services. These days, the advantages of texting are being put to critical use through the development and institution of text-to-911 emergency response services.
Recently in Arizona, the Maricopa Association of Governments has voted unanimously in favor of bringing text-to-911 technology and services to Maricopa County, including the city of Phoenix. The motion is a huge stride forward for Arizona where currently Lake Havasu City is the only location handling text-to-911.
Text-to-911 is an upgrade for emergency services on many levels. It offers people with deafness and hearing loss a definitive communication tool to contact and connect with emergency services. Text-to-911 also offers a discreet way to communicate with 911 operators when making noise could make the caller vulnerable. The capacity to respond to emergency texting means updating response technology and services.
Financing the upgrade in technology has kept many municipalities behind the curve in adapting to innovative response systems. However, with the help of advocates for disability services as well as anti-violence and anti-abuse activists, text-to-911 is beginning to see wider adoption and implementation. For Maricopa County, the program will be financed with an initial $150,000 investment in software and maintained through regular annual tax assessments.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has put several guidelines in effect to facilitate the implementation of text-to-911 systems across the U.S. In 2014, the FCC passed a measure requiring all cellular service providers to deliver text-to-911 messages. Additionally, if a text-to-911 service is unavailable in a location, the FCC requires cellular providers to send an automated “bounce back” message so the texter realizes their emergency message has not been delivered.
The FCC regulations don’t apply to cell phone numbers based outside the U.S. or with non-U.S. cellular providers. The regulations also do not apply to text-message based apps, such as Facebook Messenger, which are not required to deliver text-to-911 messages.
The FCC maintains a national map of districts that accept text-to-911 messages which it updates monthly. You can find the map at the FCC.gov website.
Although text-to-9-1-1 has huge potential and is gaining traction, it is still unavailable in many locations. If you have a hearing impairment, speech disability or deafness and need to contact an emergency call center, TTY and telecommunications relay services are still your most reliable options for reaching help.
Traditional TTY services require specialized telephone-typewriter consoles, but new technology has made accessing relay services easier. The National Association for the Deaf has long advocated for increased access to the telephone network for hearing impaired people. Now, telephone messages can be sent through Internet Protocol (IP) Relay accessible on many cell phones, and through Video Relay Services. These advancements open telecommunication relays to many smart phone users in addition to those with TTY devices.
If you are a resident or need to summon help in Arizona’s Maricopa County, current plans are in place to instate text-to-911 within a year of final approval. As the upgrade of emergency services to Next Generation 911 occurs, more information, including the date of its service activation, will become available.
Leaders of local government in Maricopa County have been vocal about backing the plan for updating and expanding the area’s 9-1-1 accessibility. The Mayors of both Mesa and Phoenix have stepped forward to commend the plan for text-to-911 service, citing it as a “critical lifeline.” Until text-to-911 service is available, those with hearing and speech impairments should familiarize themselves with alternate existing options for contacting 911 in the event of an emergency.
At Arizona Balance & Hearing Aids, we know how important your hearing health is to your overall well-being. Our dedicated team is focused on helping you access your best hearing solutions. If you have questions about your hearing or want to schedule a hearing test contact us today and start your path to auditory health and wellness.