Deaf resident 'thrilled' by Waterloo Region's new text 911 service

Waterloo Regional Police and the Guelph Police Service are starting a new service for people in the area who are deaf and partially deaf, which will allow them to contact 911 through text messages.
Darlene Smith, left, is deaf. She is with her interpreter Karen Panchaud, right. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC)

Desktop users - the interview with Darlene Smith has closed captioning available. Click on the CC icon at the bottom right of the player to activate it.

Waterloo Regional Police and the Guelph Police Service are starting a new service for people in the area who are deaf and partially deaf, which will allow them to contact 911 through text messages.

The service, called Text with 911, is a joint initiative with the Canadian Hearing Society. In order to access it, users have to make sure their wireless providers have T911 service and then register their phones for the service. 

It will help people like Darlene Smith, who is deaf and communicates through sign language.

"I'm thrilled, I'm really looking forward to it," said Smith in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Thursday. Smith spoke to Norris with a sign language interpreter, Karen Panchaud.  All quotes here were spoken by Panchaud on behalf of Smith.

Under the old system, it took a lot of effort for Smith to call emergency services. She needs to use a TTY, or a teletypewriter, to contact anyone. If the person she is trying to contact does not use a TTY, then she must call the Bell relay service and get in touch with an operator there who can speak on her behalf. 

This way we can actually tell them what's going on.- Darlene Smith, who currently relies on a TTY machine to contact 911 

"Whatever I type across my screen, the operator then voices verbatim to me and then relays that to the police. And then police, whatever they speak, the operator would then type back to me. It ends up becoming a three-way exchange and it takes a lot of time," said Smith. 

"One time I was at work and somebody had thrown a knife at my car. And so I drove home and I contacted 9-1-1 and at that time... I just called them directly on our land line. But because I couldn't speak to anybody, I just had to hold the phone and keep it open and hope that somebody would come," said Smith.  "At the end everybody ended up coming, police, firemen and ambulance. And really, all I needed to talk to were the police."

Smith said it's frustrating and can end up being a waste of everyone's time to send so many first responders when only one is needed. 

"This way we can actually tell them what's going on, so they can make sure the right resources come and that things can happen in a more timely fashion," said Smith of the new text system.

The new service will start on March 26.

How it works

Check with your wireless provider to make sure they support T911, then register your cell phone with your provider so you can use the service. 

To get service, call 911 from your cell phone. The dispatch centre will recognize that your phone is registered to a person who is deaf or partially deaf and will send you a text, acknowledging the call. 

If you don't get a text shortly, you should stay on the line.

Once you get the first text, you can then communicate with dispatch through text messages. 


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