You can now text to order a pizza or vote for a reality show contestant, but New York City residents still can’t text an emergency to 911.
A lawsuit filed by the advocacy group Disability Rights New York is trying to change that. The suit charges that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, municipal police departments are effectively discriminating against people who have trouble speaking or hearing by not providing an adequate way for them to reach 911 emergency services.
The group is seeking an order for the activation of text-to-911 technology in New York City's five boroughs, as well as Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Suffolk County's police department says a text-to-911 system should be operational later this year, and CBS New York reports that Nassau County PD intends to announce a plan for 911 texting in the spring.
Elizabeth Grossman, DRNY's director, joined WNYC's Richard Hake to explain the need for these services, and how 911 texting has worked in other states.
Richard Hake: It's Morning Edition on WNYC, I'm Richard Hake. You can now text to order a pizza, or vote for a reality show contestant. But New York City residents still can't text an emergency to 911. A lawsuit filed by the advocacy group Disability Rights New York is trying to change that. Elizabeth Grossman, the group's director, joins us now to explain what she's looking for and how it would work. Elizabeth, welcome to WNYC.
Elizabeth Grossman: Thank you.
RH: In New York City, where text-to-911 services are not available, what do people do who are hard of hearing, or people who can't speak? What do they do in an emergency?
EG: The only 911 services that are currently available are voice call. So people who do not speak can not use 911 services, and they're on their own, with no support in an emergency.
RH: With technology now, why hasn't it been implemented?
EG: We're very surprised that it hasn't been implemented in New York City. We believe there's no reason why text-to-911 services should not have been put in place years ago. There are 12 states that have text-to-911 in place, as do 11 counties in New York State.
RH: Do you have any examples of where it's working in the United States?
EG: There's a public report in Vermont over a short time period that 34 requests for assistance were made by text. And the report details that four of them were suicide threats. There are many other life-threatening emergencies and it's very very clear how much the service has helped people with disabilities and other people as well.
RH: I'm assuming in some emergency situations you don't want to talk -- like maybe a hostage situation -- a text to 911 would be very beneficial.
EG: Yes, emergency services are among the most important responsibilities of government agencies. And their failure to provide 911 access to all people leaves many people at serious risk of injury or death.
RH: Elizabeth Grossman is the director of disability rights New York. Elizabeth, thanks so much for joining us.