Friday, November 5, 2010

New Zealand deaf community can now text for emergency services

From the Eastern Courier in New Zealand:

Deaf mother Judith Serfontein (pictured) was unable to contact 111 when her toddler nearly drowned in 2001.

It would be a different story today thanks to a new text messaging service that puts deaf people straight through to the emergency communications centre.

Mrs Serfontein rushed her two-year-old son to hospital in a car because she couldn't call 111.

Another person at the scene called an ambulance but Ms Serfontein didn't know that because of communication difficulties.

She says she would now be empowered with the ability to call 111 if a similar situation arose again.

"For me it's amazing and it's a really big thank you to Deaf Aotearoa for working with the emergency services to set it up."

The Half Moon Bay resident taught her children to call 111 in a crisis but felt they were too young for the responsibility.

"I feel independent, I don't have to find a hearing person to help me and then have the possibility of a communication breakdown."

She says the deaf community is "gobsmacked and really excited" about the service. It's another tool to help deaf people become more independent, she says.

"The information they need to get across is really simple because their address is logged under their number."

Mrs Serfontein says text messaging is the main form of communication for many deaf people.

She is proud New Zealand is the first in the world to offer the service. And deaf people will be able to help others if they witness an accident.

The service will be extended to texting Civil Defence information in a natural disaster when most people would rely on a radio to receive information.

"Deaf people miss out on that information too."