The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community: One Step Towards Eliminating the Communication Barrier with 9-1-1


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Coming from a large Deaf family, and reflecting back in the late 80’s when my uncle suffered a cardiac arrest, I recall the frustration that my aunt and cousin endured when the emergency responders didn’t respond to the 9-1-1 call until an hour and a half later. The community was outraged to learn of this, which prompted change in 9-1-1 calls in their community.

This blog post is provided by Jeff Prail, on behalf of the Arkansas Association of the Deaf. Jeff is a board member of Arkansas Hands and Voices Chapter and father of two boys. Jeff is currently the Sprint Relay Account Manager for three states; Arkansas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Jeff’s background comes from six years of running Deaf and Hard of Hearing Programs and two years as a Deaf and Hard of Hearing System Advocate in Public Policy Department for the St. Louis non-profit Independent Living Center, Paraquad and President of STL-RTR Deaf Community Center.

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Keep in mind, Relay call was just starting to become familiar with the Deaf community, and I truly understand the frustration because my sister (hearing) and myself (Hard of Hearing) had to call 9-1-1 for my parents because they couldn’t speak on the phone and often times my sister and I weren’t taken seriously because we were kids. I recall the communication barrier between the police officers and my mom because they didn’t seems to have the patience to communicate with a pen and paper when my parents were trying to report a hit and run (when a semi-truck accidentally collided with our station wagon and pushed us into the guard rail). Often times, we were considered a “waste of time”.

When I was a Deaf and Hard of Hearing advocate for the St. Louis area, I heard stories of Deaf people who were frustrated when communicating with police officers because interpreters were not available on the spot when calls were made. The Deaf community members use their hands to communicate, body language, and facial expressions that are the norm of our culture and it is often misunderstood by law enforcement.

Smart911 eliminates some of that communication barrier because it allows us to create a profile where we can state our disability and communication preference. The emergency responders will have the opportunity to receive the information before arriving to the front door and be more prepared to be able to communicate with the caller. Smart911 allows the dispatcher to see the caller’s profile and be able to text with the Deaf caller to determine the nature of the emergency call and forward that information to the emergency responders. It is a step in the right direction.

Smart911 is an effective tool when it comes to making an emergency call and to be responded quickly and efficiently. Yet, it doesn’t completely eliminate the communication barrier when the emergency responders arrive because they have to be able to communicate one way or the other and still be sensitive to our culture. Perhaps, Smart911 will pave the way for emergency responders to become more aware of the people that take advantage of this system and be 100% effective all the way around.

I’ve already created my Safety Profile and am looking forward to the benefits of utilizing it when necessary. Smart911 does more than just give citizens the opportunity to create a profile, it will also to be a tool to be used to save a life.

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