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We hear all about how hearing aids are constantly developing and entering the wireless age. What about other systems out there available for hearing-impaired Americans?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to have a nationwide emergency service that will greatly help people who are disabled and hard of hearing. The Text-to-911 service will allow Americans to contact 911 emergency call takers from their mobile phone or device. While the program is currently available in a few parts of the country, the FCC plans on partnering with major carrier services like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, and having the service accessible nationally by May 15th 2014.

Texting during emergencies can be especially helpful for those who are hearing-impaired, or in situations where it’s unsafe to make a voice call. When the feature rolls out, the process would involve of simply texting 911, typing in a location and emergency, and turning on the phone’s GPS. From there on, 911 call takers will communicate by text.

This is a far cry from the current 911 emergency systems where deaf or hard-of-hearing people have to use a TTY (Teletypewriter Text Telephone) or a TTD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf), which allows two users to type to each other. These devices were invented in the 1960s and are extremely time consuming. The new 911-texting feature will provide a welcome relief to the current population of hearing-impaired individuals, which already has to deal with many environmental challenges.

At this time, texting 911 in areas that do not yet have the feature implemented will result in an auto-reply stating that the text message was not received and to call 911 instead. However, when the initiative does roll out, users who deal with hearing loss may breathe a little easier knowing that struggling to communicate with a call taker will no longer be an issue.

This initiative was undertaken by the FCC’s programs to promote telecommunications services for people with disabilities.

by Esther Shasho