We joke about “the old days” when people used tin cans and smoke signals to communicate. We tout how far we have come with technology. We’ve advanced through great technological challenges such as the move from rotary phones to digital, and from hard-wired handsets to wireless. With each challenge met, we pat ourselves on the back for keeping up with the times. But have we?The reality is that there’s a group of people who haven’t been able to move forward with the rest of us when it comes to calling 9-1-1 in an emergency. Many have rid themselves of old TTYs (also known as TDDs – Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf) in favor of new wireless devices. Yet they are being held hostage to technology that first debuted in 1874 and equipment modified from a teletype machine in 1964 in order to communicate in text.
From 1968 when the first 9-1-1 call was made, and for over 30 years, most agencies did not even have a TTY to provide access for these citizens. It was not until 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law and the Department of Justice mandated all “telephone emergency communications, including 9-1-1, shall provide direct access to people who use TDDs” that we saw equal access with equipment added in the Comm center. Ironically, it seems we have taken one step forward and two steps back.
Deaf friends have told me stories. Richard thought he was having a heart attack and couldn’t text to 9-1-1 for help. He had to get his Deaf friend to drive him to the hospital! My girlfriend’s son injured his head and there was no way to summon help. As a mother I can only imagine the fear and frustration that she went through during those moments. I’ve heard of other situations, such as when Marlee Matlin had to rely on her 4-year-old daughter to interpret because she could not use her cell phone to text to 9-1-1.
With over 32 million individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing and over 7.5 million individuals with speech disabilities who rely on TEXT for communications, one can only imagine how many more stories are out there. How many have not ended well because of current barriers?
The sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We DO have the technology and capability to do something NOW! The technology and solutions exist! We can move forward in a safe, reliable, and expeditious manner.
Implementing text to 9-1-1 should not be an option. Let’s not allow our friends and family, who happen to be Deaf, be left in the lurch again! We can’t afford to wait! This is a matter of life and death.
After all… we’re here to help!