Commissioner celebrates launch of British Sign Language 999 service
Published: 26 June 2022
On Friday 17 June 2022, Police and Crime Commissioner John Dwyer welcomed Deafness Support Network to Police HQ for an event to celebrate the launch of 999 BSL, a service that will enable British Sign Language users to contact the UK emergency services in their first language.
The new 999 BSL service, which was activated on the day of the event, now enables deaf British Sign Language users to be connected to the emergency services via a live video link.
Using a smartphone app, the caller can talk in real time to the call handler, with an interpreter signing the handler’s responses and instructions back to them.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, John Dwyer said:
“This new technology will have an incredible impact on British Sign Language users. It is a breakthrough in the accessibility of the police and other emergency services to the deaf community and I am delighted to have hosted the launch event for this special occasion.
“Deaf individuals and BSL users can be some of the most vulnerable members of our community, so this is essential to ensuring their safety and inclusivity within society. I am committed to protecting vulnerable and at-risk people in my Police and Crime Plan and this certainly a step in the right direction towards that aim.”
There are approximately 12 million deaf people living in the UK who, until Friday 17 June, had to rely on others to call for help or use a text-based system. In this new move, Ofcom requirements for communication providers across the UK now mean a free, 24/7 BSL service is available.
As well as the police, the fire and ambulance services are also contactable through 999 BSL. Paul Binyon, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said:
“It was an honour to represent Cheshire Fire and Rescue at the 999 BSL launch event. Having the opportunity to communicate with the fire service and other emergency services in their first language could be life saving for a BSL user. This development will be a milestone within deaf communication.”
The service can be accessed via a dedicated app as well as the 999 BSL website and is an addition to the emergency text relay and emergency SMS functions which are already available.
David Horrocks, CEO for Deafness Support Network said:
“DSN welcomes this important initiative as another step towards equality for BSL users and is another milestone for the deaf community.
“All of the emergency services that DSN have talked to have welcomed this with their full support. We all agree that it will help BSL user’s access to communicating with the 999 service to call for help but the emergency services will not be able to sign when they get there.
“It is obviously the first step, but we still need to work hard to ensure that deaf people have full and equal access. DSN will continue to provide awareness and support for the 999BSL service, and we will continue to work with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire and the emergency services to advise on how they can improve their communication with the deaf community.”