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Arizona Sued Over Lack Of 911 Texting System

(Photo by graphicstock.com)

A coalition of groups representing deaf Arizonans has sued the state. They want Arizona to make sure residents have access to 911 services through texting, as required by federal law.

Asim Dietrich is a staff attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law, which is one of the groups involved in the lawsuit.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Administration said “We are in the beginning stages of reviewing the lawsuit and will determine the appropriate course of action in the near future.”

MARK: Asim, what’s the reason for filing?

ASIM: Well, the reason we filed suit here was that individuals who are deaf and have other speech or communication disabilities currently don’t have any direct and immediate access to 911. So the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehab Act of 1973 require that state and local government agencies afford people with disabilities equal access at effective communication to access government services. So without the ability of individuals to send a text to 911, people who are deaf or have other speech disabilities are unable to access 911.

MARK: Does the TTY system not work for 911?

ASIM: The 911 system is required to have TTY available, but TTY has really become an obsolete technology. There are very few people who are deaf who actually use TTY. Most individuals who are deaf either text or use a video relay service.

MARK: Are there not video relay services available for 911?

ASIM: There are video relay services, but those services do not provide direct access to 911. An individual who’s deaf has to call the relay service, and then the relay service will call 911, and so it takes a conversation. So those relay services are also dependent on high-speed internet, which is not always available in emergency circumstances.

MARK: So right now in Arizona if somebody is deaf or hard of hearing or has other communication challenges has a situation where they need immediate attention, what do they do?

ASIM: Right now the only way for them to access 911 is to use their relay service, which, as I said, is not always available due to various issues, including an internet connection not being available. So currently, people who are deaf and have other disabilities really don’t have any direct and immediate access to 911 services.

MARK: Technically, financially, what would it take to implement the texting system?

ASIM: Well, the FCC requires that the phone service providers provide the ability for individuals to send a text to 911 if the 911 program in a given state or municipality requests it. So really what Arizona would need to do is request from the phone service providers that text-911 be implemented, and then the phone companies would actually implement and install the technology.

MARK: So the cost would be borne by the providers, not the state.

ASIM: Yes, that’s correct.

MARK: Is this problem unique to Arizona, I mean are there other states that also do not have a 911 system for folks who are deaf?

ASIM: We are not the only state without a system, but there are approximately 30 states at this time that provide text-to-911 services in at least one or more jurisdictions.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.