Understanding the Needs of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing


I just got back from an incredible experience with the Arkansas Association of the Deaf (AAD) and their first statewide Town Hall Meeting. With over 100 citizens in attendance, it was an amazing opportunity to exchange ideas and share experiences about enhancing 9-1-1 emergency service for the deaf and hard of hearing as well as for all citizens.

The session opened with Jeff Prail from the AAD who has a long history of deaf advocacy spanning back to his days in our hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. In Jeff’s opening remarks, he shared a personal story about his uncle who is also deaf. In his forties, Jeff’s uncle had a heart attack and his wife and son, who are also deaf, dialed 9-1-1 for emergency help. While they were able to complete the 9-1-1 call, help never arrived. They left the line open for the 9-1-1 call taker who assumed the silence was due to an accidental dial. Unfortunately Jeff’s uncle passed away.

While none of us can be certain Jeff’s uncle would have survived, we can be sure that he would have been given a chance if that 9-1-1 call taker knew more information about the family calling in for help even though they could not communicate verbally. If 9-1-1 knew the family was deaf and the household had a history of heart issues, chances are good that the call would not have been ignored. Instead, emergency medical personnel would have been dispatched immediately.

We also heard from a mother, Candice Boyles, who has a 4 year old son that is deaf and asthmatic. She spoke with reporters in attendance and shared her concerns about the current state of emergency services. Today if she were to call 9-1-1, they wouldn’t know about either of her son’s conditions and might not be able to respond effectively. As a parent of two small children, I can relate to Candice’s concerns.

The experiences and stories I heard this weekend are quite common. In a recent FCC survey of individuals with disabilities, 37% of respondents stated that they were unable to effectively communicate with 9-1-1. In Arkansas, it is estimated that around 7% of the population is deaf or hard of hearing and about 20% of Arkansans have some form of a disability. During emergency situations, these Arkansans often struggle to receive the basic emergency services that most of us take for granted.

Luckily, proactive communities are starting to address these issues. Most recently, Searcy, AR became the first city in Arkansas to add Smart911 in an effort to help better protect all their citizens, not just those with additional functional needs. Smart911 is the trusted database of critical 9-1-1 caller data for 9-1-1 call takers and emergency personnel. You provide as much information as you want emergency personnel to know in the event you have to call 9-1-1. With the support of teams like the Arkansas Association of the Deaf, we are working working with other cities and counties to raise awareness of the benefits of Smart911 for all Arkansans and all Americans.

For more information about the Arkansas Association of the Deaf visit http://www.arkad.org/ or search Facebook for “Arkansas Association of the Deaf”.

To see news coverage of this weekend’s events, click here:



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