The 999 BSL service enables people with hearing or speech loss to be connected to a video call with a BSL interpreter in order to make 999 calls by video
The app and website connect 999 callers to a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, who can relay the conversation to the 999 call handler for all emergency services – ambulance, police, fire or coastguard.
British Sign Language is a form of sign language, which involves the use of hand movements, gestures, body language and facial expressions to communicate. It is mainly used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
How it works
The service is free to use and available 24/7, though users will need to be connected to the internet. 999 BSL can be used on a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, via the app or website. There is a 999 BSL app for iOS and one for Android and no registration is required.
Service users can use the app or website to make a call to 999, which will go through to a BSL interpreter first, who will be visible on the screen. The interpreter will then call the 999 operator through the landline and relay the conversation.
In January 2022, Ofcom set out a requirement for communications providers across the UK to make an emergency BSL service available from 17 June 2022 – 999 BSL was launched on this date. Sign Language Interactions is the sole provider of the service and is working with BT who is the wholesale supplier of the service to the telecoms industry.
How it helps
Before the service was available, people with hearing or speech loss had to use a text message service and call handlers were advised to ask fewer questions to avoid delays in organising help. Now, as reported by London Ambulance Service (LAS), handlers can ask the same questions as they would in a voice call.
The new service also enables call handlers to give deaf callers instructions on how to give CPR and research shows it is just as quick as a voice call– and takes about half the time of the text system.
Paramedic Richard Webb-Stevens, who is deaf said: “This is such a brilliant innovation for the deaf community and means sign language users get the same access to emergency services as any other user.”
“If you haven’t already downloaded the 999 BSL app, please do it today – it could save your life or the life of a loved one.”
As with all emergency calls, calls made via 999 BSL are recorded and retained for 3 years – this is in case they are needed for evidence at a later date.
Sarah Clark, quality assurance manager at LAS, said: “I initially trained as a call handler and I’m passionate about helping patients and saving lives. This innovation means no deaf person is excluded. Everyone should have the same access to our services and treatment and care.
“Now deaf people get the same advice and the same instructions for helping patients. And the same chance for saving lives.”