Sign language 999 BSL service launched for deaf people

  • By Hamzah Abbas
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

A new service has launched to allow people to make 999 calls using British Sign Language (BSL) for the first time.

The new service, 999 BSL, will allow deaf people to make emergency calls using an app or website, connecting callers with a BSL interpreter.

It is free to use and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ofcom announced telephone and broadband companies must carry the service last June, estimating it would save two lives a year.

The system, which launched on Friday, is the first time a 999 emergency service will be available in British Sign Language, though a similar process exists for the NHS 111 number.

People who use the service will be put through to a BSL interpreter, who will then relay the conversation to a 999 operator.

Image source, Getty Images

A text service for 999 already exists, though users have had to register for that prior to use.

The new sign language-based service does not require registration, meaning callers can use it as long as the app or webpage is open.

To make a call with 999 BSL, users need to open the app or webpage, then press a red button that will connect them to an interpreter.

A number of charities and organisations have been campaigning for the service.

Abigail Gorman, public affairs and policy manager at SignHealth, the deaf health charity, said: "This is a breakthrough for deaf people that will save lives and means one more step forward towards equality.

"We won't be satisfied until deaf people have full and equal access, particularly to life saving health services."

James Watson-O'Neill, the chief executive of SignHealth, said the service was important for everyone and not just the deaf community.

"Deaf people can now contact emergency services directly and assist anyone in need of help. This is a huge breakthrough in terms of access and a moment worth celebrating," he said.