Canada boosts 911 services for hearing, speech impaired

Newly announced enhancements to 911 services will open the door for Canadians with hearing or speech impairments to contact emergency call centres by text message. The new initiative should be completely rolled out by late January 2014, the deadline for wireline and wireless companies to upgrade their network to support the feature.

“Services such as 911 are critical to the health and safety of all Canadians,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “This initiative is a perfect example of how technology can be used to improve access to 911 services for Canadians with disabilities. I would like to thank those who participated in last year’s trial. Its success convinced us that expanding the initiative across the country is not only possible, but also in the public interest.”

The service’s implementation comes on the heels of a 2012 trial, in which the feasibility of such a feature was assessed on a nationwide scale. Areas evaluated in the trial included Montreal, Vancouver, Peel Region and Toronto.

As the service is rolled out, users will register their cell phone number with their wireless provider to ensure compatibility. When contacting 911, they will first dial the number and the emergency call centre will then respond via text message. Only those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech impairments will be permitted to use the service. The CRTC reminds the public that text messages sent to 911 do not reach emergency call centres.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which participated in the development process, commended the CRTC on its decision to implement the system.

“CWTA and its members applaud all parties involved for their dedication to improving safety for Canada’s DHHSI community,” said Bernard Lord, CWTA president and CEO. “Wireless service providers are always looking for ways to improve accessibility for Canadian consumers, and we look forward to continuing our partnerships with community, government and other stakeholders in deploying this revolutionary safety tool.”

The CRTC is planning a complete examination of Canada’s 911 infrastructure in 2014-2015, and has appointed national commissioner Timothy Denton to research the issues related to the provision of services on next-generation telecommunications networks.