911 texting celebrated by deaf community in Nova Scotia

Starting in the new year people across the Maritimes will be able to text 911, a coup for those who can’t hear or speak.

Users must register phone first

Canadians who have hearing or speech problems will soon be able to send text messages to 911 services.

Starting in the new year people in Nova Scotia will be able to text 911, a coup for those who can’t hear or speak.

Jim McDermott, who is deaf, welcomes the change because currently he can’t call for help during emergencies.

“I was driving on the highway and saw a car off the road...I want to call into 911. I want to describe what has happened. I want to provide assistance. Right now there's very little I can do,” he said through his interpreter Sarah Lewis.

As it stands in Nova Scotia, anyone who texts 911 gets a message telling them to call directly.

The CRTC told wireless phone companies to upgrade their networks to support text messaging communication texting 911 technology by January 2014, but changes also had to be made at the local level. 

Paul Mason, director of emergency services at EMO in Nova Scotia, says individuals will have to ensure their cell phone is compatible and will need to preregister for the service.

“The 911 call taker will receive a pop-up letting them know this is a preregistered phone. At that point the 911 call taker will begin a text communication with the caller,” he explained.

McDermott says the new technology is long overdue in putting the deaf and speech impaired communities on an even playing field with those who can hear and speak.

“We are past the point where we're interested in asking our families, friends and co-workers for help,” he said.

“We'd much rather be able to live as autonomous individuals.”

The CRTC said it will conduct a study on the future of Canadian 911 services in 2014-15.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.