UK to provide emergency sign language video calls

Friday, 25 June, 2021

UK to provide emergency sign language video calls

From next year, British Sign Language (BSL) users will be able to contact emergency services using video relay.

Currently, people with hearing or speech impairments can already communicate with other people over the phone via a text relay service, or can contact the emergency services by simply sending a text message to 999. However, these services rely on written English, which can lead to misunderstandings in emergency situations.

The UK regulator, Ofcom, will now require telephone and broadband companies to offer a free, 24/7 video relay service for BSL users to contact emergency services, via a dedicated mobile app and website. This will enable BSL users to describe the nature of the emergency and understand potentially life-saving instructions from the emergency services.

A deaf person will be able to make a video call to a qualified and experienced interpreter who will be in the call centre. The interpreter will translate what the deaf person is signing into spoken English for the emergency services to hear and sign what the emergency services are saying to the deaf person.

The app and website need to be designed, so telecom companies have until 17 June 2022 to prepare to introduce an emergency video relay service.

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