The Vermont Enhanced 911 Board has launched the first statewide pilot program that will allow hearing impaired Vermonters to access emergency services by texting on their cell phones.
The trial project will run for the next 6 months and will be available only to Verizon wireless customers.
Keri Darling is the director of a group known as Deaf Vermont Advocacy Services.
Speaking through the voice of an interpreter using American Sign Language, Darling said the new service is a critical step forward for the state’s hearing impaired community.
"People don’t have land lines anymore. They only have the Internet, especially within the deaf and hard of hearing community because a land line, there’s no need for it and so if the power is out if they don’t have Internet service then they don’t have access to emergency services." Darling added, "So this program is going to be huge. It’s definitely going to fill the void."
Darling travels around the state in her job and she says the new 911 texting service will give her peace of mind on the road.
"In my own job if I’m out in a rural area I have access to a cell tower, the text ability then allows me to access emergency services when I’m traveling and that’s a huge benefit for those of us as well."
And Darling says the development of texting services has been incredibly valuable for Vermonters who are hearing impaired.
"I certainly don’t even know how I would get anything done without texting." Darling says," It’s my way of communicating with my family, with friends, it’s how I set up meetings for my job … just about everything I do is based on texting at this point."
David Tucker is the executive director of the state’s Enhanced 911 Board. He says the new temporary service fills a key void in the availability of emergency services.
"I think the most important aspect of this project is that this really opening up the 911service in Vermont to individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing." Tucker added," It’s traditionally a fact that the 911 service has been based on utilizing voice calls and that’s left a segment of the population unable to easily communicate with 911 in an emergency."
Tucker says the texting option should be used only when it’s not possible to call 911 because it will take longer for an emergency text to go through the state’s system. He says the pilot program will be evaluated after the 6 month trial period is over.