A new 999 video call service has been launched today to ensure British Sign Language (BSL) users have equivalent access to the emergency services.

Ofcom, the communication regulator in the UK, last year announced that new rules were to come into place to allow BSL users inclusive access when contacting the emergency services. They have developed a video relay service that can be used through a website or via an app on your phone or tablet, it is called 999 BSL.

Previously, people living with hearing or speech impairments have been able to contact emergency services via text relay or by sending a text message to 999, however this can be time consuming and involves using written English, which in an emergency can be typed incorrectly leading to the wrong information being relayed.

The dedicated app and website have been developed with Sign Language Interactions, and this new service will ensure that BSL users can communicate in their first language in emergency situations. Communicating in BSL will help callers to describe their emergency more accurately and be able to follow any life-saving instructions more easily.

Katie Hanson, senior consumer policy manager at Ofcom, said: “You can go for years without needing to call 999. But knowing you can call for help on your mobile phone is something we should all be able to rely on, and something many of us take for granted.

“Our new rules mean D/deaf people can now make a video call in an emergency, which will benefit everyone and save lives.”

How it works

A D/deaf person can make a 999 video call to a qualified and experienced BSL interpreter who is in a call centre. The interpreter translates what the D/deaf person is signing into spoken English for the emergency services to hear, and signs what the emergency services are saying to the D/deaf person.

Any data that customers use to make the video call should be ‘zero rated’ and therefore the service should be free for the user – just as other emergency calls are.

Consulting sign language users

Ofcom conducted a public consultation in both BSL and English and invited respondents to contact them in either BSL or in writing. They reportedly had many responses in support of the new service.

It was highlighted that users should not have to register for the service or use a password when using the 999 BSL service, which Ofcom took note of and have kept it as an open service. Many respondents also requested that the existing text relay and text message service to the emergency services should remain, and they will continue to run alongside this new video relay service.

To use the new 999 BSL service online you visit: 999bsl.co.uk

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