People in the Calgary area who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired can now contact 911 using text messages, the city says.

The new Text with 911 (T911) service launched on Monday lets a person in need of urgent help communicate directly with a 911 emergency communications officer.

Until now the only way for deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired (DHHSI) Calgarians to communicate with 911 was with a teletypewriter (TTY) system — a technology from the 1960s.

“Deaf and Hear Alberta is very excited that the text with 911 service is now a reality for those who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said executive director Mona Hennenfent.

“Having text with 911 can literally make a difference between life and death — particularly for vulnerable seniors and those who live alone.”

The Calgary Public Safety Communications (PSC) centre is only the second in Canada and the first in Alberta to offer T911 specifically for the DHHSI community, the city said.

Last year the CRTC ruled that all wireless service providers had to get the necessary infrastructure in place so that the DHHSI population can text message with 911 by no later than Jan. 24, 2014.

“TELUS worked closely with Calgary PSC to help them implement this sophisticated technology and we are proud they are the first in Alberta to provide it for the DHHSI community of Calgary and the surrounding area,” said TELUS spokeswoman Andrea Goertz.

DHHSI individuals will need to register with their wireless service provider in order to access the T911 service. The service is not available for members of the general public.