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New App To Help Deaf People Contact Emergency Services Using Sign Language

Published on: 24 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 24 Jun, 2022

Sight for Surrey – the charity that supports people who are blind or partially sighted, deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing – hosted a party to celebrate the launch of a new service connecting deaf people to emergency services.

It is an app called 999 BSL, and is UK’s first video relay service connecting deaf people to the emergency services (police, ambulance, fire & rescue and coastguard) via a remote British Sign Language interpreter.

Emergency services personnel with sight for Surrey staff at the launch of the new app.

Standing shoulder to shoulder on Friday, June 17, with Sight for Surrey staff at its base in Leatherhead, were representatives from Surrey Police, Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, and the South East Coast Ambulance Service.

They showcased the new service and answered questions about downloading and using the app.

The new app and how it works was explained to people who attended Sight for Surrey’s launch event.

The new service is a web-based platform app compatible with iOS and Android and is being funded by telecoms companies. It will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, free of charge to deaf users.

It is seen as an important breakthrough in equality for the deaf community.

While a text relay service already exists, video relay will enable deaf callers across the UK to make video calls to the emergency services in their own language, British Sign Language, without needing to use English or ask a hearing person to make a call to 999 on their behalf.

Susanna MacDonald from Sight for Surrey’s Sensory Services, said: “The launch of 999 BSL has been a long time coming. This service will make a huge difference for the deaf community and how quickly we can connect to the emergency services rather than relying on a neighbour or waiting for the next hearing person to come along, especially when the situation is life-threatening.

“To be able to call directly and explain and communicate in our first language is fantastic and it also means full and accurate information can be translated.

“I believe this new service will be helpful to anyone with any degree of hearing loss, as a non BSL user would also find this useful to be able to speak to and lipread the interpreter.”

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