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E911 Hosted Solutions May Soon Address the Hearing Impaired


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December 26, 2012

E911 Hosted Solutions May Soon Address the Hearing Impaired

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

The National Emergency Number Association, APCO International and carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon (News - Alert) (considered the Big 4) together have inked a voluntary commitment to provide subscribers with text-based emergency communications services. While this move is in accordance with the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, there are some who are wondering what took so long. 

A recent Avaya (News - Alert) blog highlighted that while this seems like a noble move, the FCC (News - Alert) has been discussing this with the industry for years without comment or results. And the proof of need is not hard to find. Countless stories abound of individuals hiding from an intruder or some other danger and during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, text communications were often the only working mode of communication. 

But what about the community of users made up of the deaf or hard of hearing? A number of organizations are focused on the development and delivery of E911 hosted solutions to address an increasingly mobile community of users, but the deaf and hard of hearing are often treated like second-class citizens when it comes to 911 calls. 

Consider the developments around E911 hosted solutions. 911 can be dialed from any device from which you can make a call, unless that device is not working. The call can be made from a computer, smartphone, tablet or other computerized device, but voice is still needed to complete the call. And, while 911 centers must have TDD/TTY enabled call takers, most who qualify as deaf or hard of hearing do not make a habit out of carrying around a typewriter-sized device just to communicate – especially in an emergency situation. 

Let’s not forgot about the lack of efficiency with TDD/TTY. Yes, it does provide a bridge to communicate between the hearing and the deaf or hard of hearing, but this method lacks significantly in efficiency. When compared with broadband connectivity and near real-time communications available over nearly every media, TDD/TTY is antiquated at best. 

Yet proposals have emerged in the industry, suggesting the use of TDD/TTY to deliver tech messages to 911 centers. While it would be possible, the investment in archaic technology still wouldn’t address issues such as multimedia communications and real-time texting directly with 911 agents when American Sign Language or a video interpreter can assist in the call. 

The E911 hosted solutions available today must provide the necessary backbone to make multimedia experiences available and affordable to the deaf or hearing impaired. Such a commitment is supported by the FCC and with the public support of leaders in the industry, such a solution can quickly become the norm. 

Until that time, carriers will provide a bounce-back message for text messages sent to 911 if supporting technology is not yet available in their area. Nationwide availability for 911 texting service is expected by May 14, 2014. Until then, those providing E911 hosted solutions will have to continue to focus on meeting the needs of the customer base while also exploring methods to address the needs of those who may have trouble hearing the call.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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