If and when an emergency arises, most people know to call 911. Then, trained dispatchers typically gather information about the urgent situation, including location, and send appropriate help (fire, medical or police). For some people, however, communication barriers can impede standard lifesaving protocols and, thus, delay responsive action. That’s why a tech nonprofit organization, called accesSOS, is on a mission to make 911 accessible for all, including people within the Deaf community.
Hearing the Call to Make 911 Accessible
Millions of Americans, such as those who are deaf or hard of hearing, are not always able to access emergency assistance because of shortcomings in current response systems. Gabriella Wong, the CEO and founder of accesSOS, learned this the hard way. You see, both of her parents are deaf; and when her father, William Wong, got into a car accident, he didn’t call 911 for help…
“He texted me to call 911 for him! What if he wasn’t able to reach me,” Gabriella pondered with concern. And that’s exactly what happened the next time William needed emergency aid.
“This nightmare [of inaccessibility] became a reality when my father had a gallbladder rupture. He was all alone and I didn’t see his texts for help in time. During one of the most vulnerable, desperate moments of his life, he couldn’t contact 911 to get help. He almost died because of this inequity. These personal experiences motivate me to keep doing the hard work of fixing this problem,” Gabriella shared on the website accessos.io.
History of Inequality
The 911 call system was established in the 1960s using a landline. At the time, 911 simplified access to emergency care by allowing callers to dial the new three-digit number versus differing seven-digit numbers of either fire, medical or police services. With the technological shift to cellphones, public safety systems have worked to convert equipment. This includes a text-to-911 service. However, according to accesSOS, most call centers aren’t yet providing this service.
“Unfortunately, text-to-911 is currently only available in 30 percent of 911 call centers in the United States, leaving 37 million deaf or hard-of-hearing Americans and 28 million more with limited English proficiency vulnerable to potentially life-threatening delays in receiving the help they need,” Gabriella told AmeriDisability.
Nationwide access to text-to-911 may take years, even a decade, to achieve. So, accessSOS is currently striving to fill the gap. accessSOS is essentially a free mobile web app that instantly translates texts to a 911 phone call with all pertinent information.
“We launched our mobile web app (contact911.org) in 2022, which is now being piloted in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This innovative app uses cutting-edge technology to help individuals with communication barriers connect to emergency services. With a simple icon-based system, users can quickly request assistance with just a few clicks and provide their precise location to 911. The app also eliminates the need for typing long sentences, which saves valuable time during an emergency,” Gabriella explained.
The organization also developed a tool that maps out text-to-911 availability (www.text911.info), which helps underserved populations identify where text-to-911 is available and provides instructions on how to text 911 for assistance. [Click here to view an availability map.]
How accesSOS Makes 911 Accessible
The web app’s picture-based navigation features user-friendly steps.
- Essentials: You location is determined by your phone’s GPS data. The app prompts you to choose medical, police or fire assistance.
- Safety: The app will prompt questions to help determine what type of emergency is happening.
- Additional Details: You can choose from common scenarios, like accident, assault, etc.
- Help Generated: accesSOS then contacts 911 on your behalf, communicating information in real-time.
Compatible with iPhone and Android, accesSOS automatically communicates in the preferred language of your phone settings and is free to use.
“With around 700 home screen additions and two emergency calls made to 911, the app has already proven to be an effective solution for those in need,” Gabriella told AmeriDisability.