9-1-1 Providers Sued for Denying Access to Deaf Citizens

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Man holding phone with an emergency text message for 911

Update – February 14, 2017: There is a new press release with an update on this case regarding a federal court in Arizona’s ruling that the lawsuit may proceed.

Text-to-9-1-1 capability required by law and readily available to rectify the life-threatening barrier

Press Release
February 11, 2016

Phoenix, AZ — Deaf residents and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) submitted a suit for filing today in Arizona federal court seeking direct access to 9-1-1 services through text. The lawsuit seeks to make 9-1-1 services in Arizona accessible to individuals with a disability, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The lawsuit comes as few 9-1-1 centers around the country comply with federal law requiring them to be accessible to individuals with a disability.

Although text-to-9-1-1 capability exists and text access to 9-1-1 services has been required for many years, the State of Arizona and other named Defendants have failed to enable this capability. Federal law requires state and local governments to afford individuals with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from their services, programs and activities. In this case, those with speech or communication disabilities who become victims of crime, who are in need of medical services, or who are in motor vehicle accidents, cannot connect to help directly or immediately. This puts them at greater risk than non-disabled citizens in accessing reliable, time-sensitive, and critical life-saving services.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring implementation of the text-to-9-1-1 system in the State of Arizona. Plaintiffs in this case represent the thousands of citizens like them who live in fear of being unable to obtain emergency assistance:

  • Terri Guy, of Tempe, is hard of hearing and has diabetes and multiple sclerosis. She relies on lip-reading to communicate. She recently called 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance due to dangerously high blood sugar related to her diabetes – but was unable to understand the 9-1-1 operators and unable to communicate effectively.
  • Norbert Enos and Julian “Buddy” Singleton are deaf individuals who cannot use a standard telephone to call 9-1-1. They fear the time when they or their wives, who are also deaf, have a medical emergency and they cannot contact 9-1-1 in a timely manner due to the lack of direct access to 9-1-1.

“9-1-1 is a critical life-saving program that should be accessible to everyone without exception,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, NAD’s chief executive officer. “With nearly everyone using text, there is no excuse for 9-1-1 not to be directly accessible by text.” The NAD, a national organization that advocates for the rights of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, is representing members throughout Arizona who do not have direct access to 9-1-1 services.

“Federal law requires state and local government entities to afford individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from their services, programs and activities. This includes providing services necessary for effective communication – and certainly this includes access to emergency services,” said Rose Daly-Rooney, the Legal Director of the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

“Direct and immediate access to critically necessary emergency services must be available to all,” said Michael Stein, a partner at Stein & Vargas, LLP, which represents the Plaintiffs along with the NAD and the Arizona Center for Disability Law. “There is no time to waste in making sure every individual has access to 9-1-1 emergency services.”

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for, deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States.

Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights law firm committed to the principle that all people have full and equal access to all parts of society.

The Arizona Center for Disability Law is a non profit public interest law firm dedicated to protection and advocacy for individuals with disabilities.

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