Force launches UK’s first 999 video service for deaf community

Photo: Nottinghamshire launch of 999 BSL.

A ground-breaking new service enabling the deaf community to report emergencies, including crimes in progress, is now being provided by Nottinghamshire Police.

The free service connects users to British Sign Language interpreters remotely through a dedicated 999 BSL app on their phone, or via the 999 BSL website. The interpreter, who will appear on the caller’s screen, will then relay the conversation with the 999 call handler by seeing and communicating with the deaf person on the screen.

In July 2019, Nottinghamshire Police was the first force in the country to provide a mobile British Sign Language video interpreting service to enable the deaf community to report non-urgent incidents and crimes and seek advice via a mobile device or tablet.

Now the force is providing even greater accessibility, inclusivity, and equality, ensuring the deaf community has the same crime-reporting experience as hearing people, thanks to the launch of a new 999 British Sign Language (BSL) emergency video relay service.

This new service has been set up so that no deaf person will be excluded when they need to make an emergency call, therefore helping to save lives.

Police, fire, ambulance or coastguard services can all be accessed via the new 999 BSL system which is now available in the United Kingdom 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The service is available as both a smartphone app (iOS and Android) and a web-based platform.

Nottinghamshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cooper said, “The force is committed to making sure every person in Nottinghamshire has the same access to crime reporting, and to ensure that it is as easy as possible for everyone to access policing services.

“Nottinghamshire has a large deaf community who I’m sure will benefit from this new service. It shows that we are an accessible force and our commitment to tailoring our services to meet the demands of all who use them.”

Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry added, “I’m delighted that Nottinghamshire Police is once again leading the way nationally in making its services more accessible to all.

“Equality, diversity and inclusivity are vital in creating a police service that works for local people and this new facility, allowing deaf people to report emergencies, is another step in the right direction that will make the force better at preventing harm – and it could even save lives.”

A celebratory event to mark the service’s launch was held today at the Nottinghamshire Police and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service joint headquarters.

Among those in attendance were representatives from Nottinghamshire Police, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, Nottinghamshire Deaf Society and the Lord Mayor of Nottingham Wendy Smith.

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin said, “We’re proud to be here with the deaf community and our partners in Nottinghamshire to launch this service, which makes 999 calling more accessible for people who use British Sign Language.

“We want the services we offer to our communities to be as inclusive as they can, and we are working to improve so we can keep people safe from fire and other emergencies.”

Sign Language Interactions was approved by UK communications regulator Ofcom, on 27 January 2022, as the sole provider of remote British Sign Language interpreting for 999 calls from deaf BSL users to emergency authorities including the police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services.

For more about the new 999 BSL service, including guidance on how to download the app and use the web platform, visit 999 BSL or visit the force’s website for details.