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Sign language victory over 999 emergency calls

DEAF people have won an 18-month battle to get the emergency 999 phoneline available to them in sign language.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom say providers will be compelled to offer deaf people free 24/7 access to the emergency phoneline via a video relay service (VRS) on both an app and website.

VRS allows a deaf person to make a video call to a BSL interpreter, who will then relay the call via phone to the 999 call handler.

The industry now has one year to prepare and to make this service available.

Roger Wicks, associate director of insight and policy at RNID, said: “We are thrilled with Ofcom’s decision. This will have a huge impact on those that need to access this service in their primary language of BSL. We would like to thank the deaf community for helping us to campaign on this issue and we are proud that we have achieved something which will ultimately save lives.”

James Watson-O’Neil, chief executive at SignHealth, added: “This is a breakthrough for Deaf people and means one more step forward towards equality. But what happens when the ambulance arrives? The paramedics won’t be able to sign and there is no national video relay service in England to support them to communicate with Deaf people.

“We won’t be satisfied until Deaf people have full and equal access to services, particularly life-saving health services. We call for a national video relay service to be urgently commissioned so that NHS staff can communicate with Deaf people throughout the health service, and we are ready and willing to work with the NHS to make that a reality.”

Ralph Nattress, chair of UK Council on Deafness, said: “We welcome this in principle decision from Ofcom and recognise there is now a lot of work required over the coming year before the service is up and running.”

  • RNID Infoline offers free confidential and impartial information on a range of subjects related to hearing loss and tinnitus. It is open between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Call: 0808 808 0123. Live chat and BSL infoline is available at 


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