Texting to 911 Will Soon Help the Hearing Impaired

In an emergency, a call to 911 could save your life.

But what happens if you can’t hear the instructions a dispatcher gives you?

By next year, you may be able to text details of an emergency situation to a 911 dispatch center near you. That would mean the deaf or hearing impaired could easily communicate their needs and receive help using the same technology many already use to communicate with friends and family.

The ability to text would also be useful to those who cannot place a phone call for fear of being heard in a dangerous situation, as well as for dispatchers who could view photos and videos of the event sent to them via text messaging.

The move is part of the proposed Next Generation 911, which will allow for expanded methods of communication with providers of emergency services. Now available in a few test markets, 911 texting will become more widespread over the next year, and is set to be fully supported by the nation’s four largest wireless carriers by May 15, 2014.

Those who can effectively communicate through phone calls should still call 911. As anyone who’s had a lengthy text conversation knows, what can be said in seconds takes much longer to type. And in an emergency, seconds count.

But for anyone who depends on texts to communicate, the change could mean everything.