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Nottinghamshire launches UK’s first 999 service for deaf community

A ground-breaking new service enabling the deaf community to report emergencies, including crimes in progress, is now being provided by Nottinghamshire Police.

The free service, which went live today (Friday 17 June), connects users to British Sign Language interpreters remotely through a dedicated 999 BSL app on their phone, or via the 999 BSL website.

The interpreter, who will appear on the caller’s screen, will then relay the conversation with the 999 call handler by seeing and communicating with the deaf person on the screen.

 

In July 2019 Nottinghamshire Police was the first force in the country to provide a mobile British Sign Language video interpreting service to enable the deaf community to report non-urgent incidents and crimes and seek advice via a mobile device or tablet.

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Now the force is providing even greater accessibility, inclusivity, and equality, ensuring the deaf community has the same crime-reporting experience as hearing people, thanks to the launch of a new 999 British Sign Language (BSL) emergency video relay service.

This new service has been set up so that no deaf person will be excluded when they need to make an emergency call, therefore helping to save lives.

Police, fire, ambulance or coastguard services can all be accessed via the new 999 BSL system which is now available in the United Kingdom 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The service is available as both a smartphone app (iOS and Android) and a web-based platform.

Nottinghamshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cooper said: “The force is committed to making sure every person in Nottinghamshire has the same access to crime reporting, and to ensure that it is as easy as possible for everyone to access policing services.

“Nottinghamshire has a large deaf community who I’m sure will benefit from this new service. It shows that we are an accessible force and our commitment to tailoring our services to meet the demands of all who use them.”

Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said: “I’m delighted that Nottinghamshire Police is once again leading the way nationally in making its services more accessible to all.

“Equality, diversity and inclusivity are vital in creating a police service that works for local people and this new facility, allowing deaf people to report emergencies, is another step in the right direction that will make the force better at preventing harm – and it could even save lives.”

A celebratory event to mark the service’s launch was held today at the Nottinghamshire Police and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service joint headquarters.

Among those in attendance were representatives from Nottinghamshire Police, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, Nottinghamshire Deaf Society and the Lord Mayor of Nottingham Wendy Smith.

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin said: “We’re proud to be here with the deaf community and our partners in Nottinghamshire to launch this service, which makes 999 calling more accessible for people who use British Sign Language.

“We want the services we offer to our communities to be as inclusive as they can, and we are working to improve so we can keep people safe from fire and other emergencies.”

Gary Lockley, Service Delivery Manager for our Emergency Operations Centre at EMAS said: “We’re pleased that British Sign Language users now have an additional method to access the ambulance service and get the help they need by being able to communicate with an interpreter via a video call, who will then pass on the information to us.

“We have been supporting our deaf communities across the East Midlands with a service called TypeTalk for a number of years. This is where an interpreter in a call centre separate from our 999 control room types our questions to the patient from the deaf community.

“While the introduction of this new service will not change our call handling processes, we recognise that British Sign Language could be a deaf person’s first language and so welcome the introduction of this service to makes us even more accessible to the communities we serve.”

Will Burchell, CEO of Nottinghamshire Deaf Society, said: “This event is all about celebrating how much of a positive step 999 BSL is, not just for members of the deaf community but also those who use British Sign Language.

“999 BSL is a fantastic service and highlights how members of the hearing world might take being able to call 999 for granted.

“This is a big step forward, which is extremely welcomed, but for sure we still have a long way to go.”

Sign Language Interactions was approved by UK communications regulator Ofcom, on 27 January 2022, as the sole provider of remote British Sign Language interpreting for 999 calls from deaf BSL users to emergency authorities including the police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services.

Andrew Dewey, Head of Strategy and Business Development EMEA of Sign Language Interactions, said: “We are incredibly excited to launch 999 BSL, the UK’s first ever Video Relay Service for calls to the emergency services in British Sign Language.

“Thanks to this innovative new service, no deaf person will be excluded when they need to make an emergency call, therefore saving lives.

“Sign Language Interactions is committed to connecting deaf and hearing people by providing seamless communication access 24/7, 365 days a year.

“999 BSL is a vital new addition to the services we proudly provide to the deaf community in the UK.”

Nottinghamshire Police also recently launched an innovative ‘live chat’ service for non-emergency calls to help further increase accessibility for its service users, and to keep emergency 999 lines clear.

The service gives the public a new way to report crimes, incidents and gain advice and gives people the opportunity to get support without needing to phone.

The live chat function appears as an icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the website and when people click on it, it opens a chat box where people can engage in text conversations with operators in the contact centre, who can ensure they get the help they need regarding non-emergency matters.

 

For more about the new 999 BSL service, including guidance on how to download the app and use the web platform, please visit 999 BSL or visit the force’s website for details.

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