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February 27, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: Alternative to 999 up and running soon

From: Belfast Telegraph (subscription), UK - Feb 27, 2004

By Bob McCullough

A COMFY ground floor room, kindly provided by British Telecom in their tower at Lanyon Place, proved a popular venue and a big crowd turned up last week for the information meeting on emergency services organised by the NI branch of the British Deaf Association.

Under the present system, deaf people at home can use Typetalk or their Minicoms to obtain help from the police, hospitals, or the special emergency out-of-hours social work service at any time of the day or night.

But the situation changes when we are out and about, in the car during an accident, or any other situation where our mobiles are the only form of communication.

The RNID already provides a 24/7 emergency number (0790 3188343) to call an interpreter by SMS, but its main purpose is to provide communication assistance during hospital admittance or treatment.

Deaf users felt the need for a more wide-ranging service as the 999 number is not acceptable on mobile text calls.

Chief Superintendent Eddie Graham told us the police have been working on this problem for some time and hope soon to arrange a special number, which, after registration of our names for security, will enable us to summon help from the nearest station.

After sending the message, an acknowledgement will appear on our screen and the waiting time will be the same as for hearing people.

We'll be able to do this via our mobiles and, on top of this, Eddie is arranging basic deaf awareness and sign language teaching for many on the force, so that when the officer arrives communication will be less of a problem.

He pointed out, however, that if a serious situation arises, deaf people still have full rights to the services of a professional interpreter.

In any ensuing court case, the Superintendent told us he intends to make sure that the deaf person has the assistance of a qualified and registered interpreter chosen by the police.

He said that a first class interpreter is just as important to a deaf person as a lawyer or barrister is to a hearing defendant undergoing trial.

It's expected to have the new system up and running in about three months' time.

In parallel with this venture, the police are experimenting with videophones and Eddie gave us a demonstration with his sergeant signing in another room.

It was rather jerky and unsatisfactory, but when the equipment improves and comes down in price it may revolutionise communication and save our interpreters long journeys around the country.

It was explained that the emergency out-of-hours social work service mentioned above is for all those living within the Eastern HSSB and is a service on behalf of the Social Security Agency. Qualified interpreters will be provided for deaf people - contact them on 90 565444.

It is an initial contact point in the event of a civil emergency and an out-of- hours service for homeless people by providing temporary accommodation in cases of assessed needs.

The service runs from 5pm to 9am and is aimed at older people, those with mental health problems or learning difficulties and people with physical disabilities, as well as families and carers of all groups.

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd