Ofcom has announced that they will begin consulting on emergency video relay with UK telecoms providers, which will result in access to 24/7 video relay services to emergency services like the police, fire service, ambulance, and coastguards for Deaf BSL speakers.

The communications regulator is campaigning to ensure Deaf BSL users have better access to emergency services, after it was revealed to them by a number of charities that text relay and emergency services don’t always work for Deaf BSL users as both types of service require them to read and write in English.

Ofcom are committed to providing the service to Deaf BSL users in their first language, which will ensure faster and more accurate calls can be made by Deaf people to the emergency services.

Deaf BSL speakers who have previously used video relay services to contact organisations like their bank or NHS111 will be familiar with the system proposed by Ofcom, which provides them with more dignity, independence, and privacy. All it will require from Deaf BSL users will be for them to download an app to their smartphone.

SignHealth, a charity that works to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people, gave two harrowing examples of how important it is to have video relay services available to Deaf BSL speakers.

One person told the charity: “Next door’s house was on fire; I spotted it. Our house alarm then went off so I got my child and husband out of the house. We could not use Minicom because of the ‘get out and stay out’ fire rule, and we could not use a mobile phone as video relay was not available then. We went to several houses to try and get someone to call the fire brigade, but most of our neighbours were not at home. Finally, we found a neighbour and he called the fire brigade. Unfortunately, the fire had spread to our house, and it was six months before we could move back in due to extensive damage. I do wonder if things could have been different if I had been able to call the fire brigade sooner.”

Another said: “I know a Deaf elderly couple. The husband went out to do some errands and came back to find that his wife had collapsed inside the hallway. He could not open the front door and had to wait for his daughter to arrive. He did not seek help because of his deafness and did not know how to use the 999 emergency number. Unfortunately, his wife died.”

Ofcom are interested in hearing BSL users’ experiences with attempting to contact emergency services. To respond to them in English, email: emergencyBSL@ofcom.org.uk, or to respond in BSL, attach or email a link to a hosted video to emergencyBSL@ofcom.org.uk.

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Image credit: Flickr/West Midlands Police