From next year, British Sign Language users will be able to contact the emergency services using video relay, under new rules announced today by Ofcom.
Under our existing rules, people with hearing or speech impairments can already communicate with other people over the phone via an Ofcom-approved text relay service, and can contact the emergency services by simply sending a text message to 999.
However, these services rely on written English, which can lead to misunderstandings for British Sign Language (BSL) users in emergency situations. We want BSL users to have equivalent access to the emergency services with other people in the UK.
So, we are now requiring telephone and broadband companies to offer a free, 24/7 video relay service for BSL users to contact the emergency services, via a dedicated mobile app and website. Telecoms firms can either deliver the service themselves or contract another organisation to do so, but it must be approved by Ofcom.
Enabling BSL users to use their first language will make it easier for them to get the help they need for them and others in emergencies. They will be better able to describe the nature of the emergency and understand potentially life-saving instructions from the emergency services.
A news article is available with more detail.