Text 911: Maricopa County improves emergency system to serve the hearing impaired

PHOENIX – Maricopa County residents who are deaf or have other disabilities now can text 911, expanding rapid response in a medical or police emergency to an underserved community.

Officials said the text service will help more than 150,000 people in metro Phoenix who are deaf or hard of hearing, speech impaired or unable to have a voice conversation.

Norbert Enos, who is deaf and lives in Surprise, said deaf seniors no longer have to rely on neighbors to make the phone call.

“We needed other access to 911,” Enos said. “If I’m pulled over on the highway, I wouldn’t have any way to contact 911, until this system was implemented.”

Although people who are not disabled are encouraged to call 911 rather than text, the new system gives everyone options in an emergency.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said this week’s launch means anyone can send a text if they’re not in a position to call 911.

“This capability can be useful to anyone who can’t speak out loud without putting themselves in danger – such as a homeowner, hiding in a closet from a burglar, or a domestic violence victim, who doesn’t want an abuser to overhear their 911 call,” Stanton said.

Michelle Potts, spokeswoman for the Chandler Police Department, said people had been sending text messages to Chandler’s non-emergency text service because they could not call 911. That delays response times.

“With the disability community, this is the first time that it has provided them access,” Potts said.

Still, the text system is limited, so people are urged to call 911 if they can. Officials said GPS is not available to pinpoint an exact location of the person sending the text. Also, the English-language service does not provide translations, can’t receive group texts or figure out abbreviations or slang.

Maricopa County joins Lake Havasu City in establishing a text 911 system. Most states have the service in at least one city.

“Regardless of where we travel, when we are on vacation, et cetera, we (want to) always have access to emergency services,” Enos said.

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