FCC urged to improve access to 9-1-1 for hard-of-hearing

Washington, DC � COMCARE joined national leaders of the deaf and hard of hearing communities in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to encourage 9-1-1 systems to upgrade technology to serve the needs of disabled persons.

The letter to the FCC, endorsed by representatives from 30 organizations, requested that 9-1-1 services allow deaf, hard of hearing, and speech disabled individuals to access emergency services through the use of modern digital technology, including text and video.

Sheri Farinha-Mutti, the CEO of the NorCal Center on Deafness and the chair of the E9-1-1 National Stakeholder Council, said:

“Millions of people who rely on PDAs, instant messaging, video, and email for fixed and mobile communications are not able to use these devices to call for help, report emergency incidents, or receive emergency alerts. This is a particular problem for deaf, hard of hearing, and speech disabled individuals. They rely on this technology in their day-to-day lives but cannot use it to access 9-1-1.”

The letter noted that traditional teletypewriter (TTY)-based services, which most 9-1-1 centers can receive, are becoming increasingly obsolete.

The national leaders urged the FCC not to look on the deaf and hard of hearing as an isolated case. They said: “Upgrading the 9-1-1 and emergency communications system would allow the receipt of data/text and video (as well as voice) from any source, ranging from VoIP telephone users to deaf and hard of hearing consumers to telematics companies such as OnStar. Upgrading the 9-1-1 system is not a unique and special requirement being imposed on 9-1-1 by deaf and hard of hearing consumers.”

“Right now, an individual who witnesses an emergency event can take a picture of the incident on their cell phone and send it to anyone in the world � but they cannot send that image to 9-1-1 or other emergency agencies because these agencies do not have the ability to accept and process external data of any kind,” said David Aylward, a Director of COMCARE. “The solutions for the problems facing deaf and hard of hearing persons will also solve a wide range of other public emergency needs. Everyone stands to benefit from modernizing emergency communications.”

Last month, COMCARE joined with over sixty organizations to urge Congress and federal agency leaders to take a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to the modernization of emergency communications, emphasizing the importance of data communications in emergency response.

These organizations noted that emergency communications, and the definition of “interoperability”, must include not only voice, but also data, and not only mobile communications but interorganizational communications, to provide the most efficient and effective response emergencies to all agencies and individuals.

The letter to the FCC was developed by the E9-1-1 Stakeholder Council Committee, comprised of experts from the deaf, hard-of-hearing, and speech-to-speech consumer communities as well as emergency response organizations such as COMCARE.

COMCARE is a national non-profit alliance dedicated to advancing emergency response. It promotes the adoption of modern, interoperable emergency systems and the development of new procedures, training, and tools to maximize their value for emergency responders. It encourages cooperation across professional, jurisdictional and geographic lines, seeking to improve effectiveness through solutions that integrate emergency response professions, government, and the public and private industry.

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