New rules from UK communications regulator Ofcom
are set to give British Sign Language users access to the emergency services via a video-relay app and website.
Ofcom's current rules ensure that people with hearing or speech impairments can communicate with other people over the phone via an Ofcom-approved text relay service. In addition, people can contact the emergency services by sending an SMS text message to 999.
However, the regulator acknowledges these services don't give British Sign Language (BSL) users equivalent access to the emergency services as other people.
As a result, it'll soon require telephone and broadband companies to offer customers a free video relay service for BSL users to contact the emergency services via a dedicated Ofcom-approved mobile app and website. Telecoms firms can either provide the service themselves or arrange for another organisation to do this.
A person using BSL will then be able to make an emergency video call to an interpreter in a call centre, with the interpreter translating the signing into spoken English for the emergency services and vice versa.
Ofcom will consult in November 2021 on proposals to approve any emergency video relay services. Telecoms companies will need to introduce their emergency video relay services no later than 17th June 2022.