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999 BSL is now live

We’re delighted to announce that from today, 17 June 2022, people needing urgent emergency support across the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will be able to call 999 using British Sign Language (BSL) via a video relay service.

This means that BSL signers will have equal access to the fire, police, ambulance and coastguard emergency services. 

From this date, people will be able to download the “999 BSL” app on iOS or Android devices, or use the 999 BSL website to contact 999 in BSL. No registration is needed. The service is designed to be very easy to use with just one button to call 999 via an interpreter. It also has a function to allow call backs if needed. All calls will be free and available 24/7.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, believes this will save at least 2 lives per year.  

RNID is extremely proud of our work with Sign Health and Ofcom to support the Deaf community and making this life-saving change happen.

We will continue to work with SignHealth, Ofcom and Sign Language Interactions (who are providing the service) to ensure it is meeting the needs of our community, and with organisations across the deaf sector to ensure that VRS is widely offered, including in key public services used by BSL signers. 

RNID and our supporters are thrilled that this vital service is now available for BSL signers in the UK. Anyone needing the emergency services is facing a difficult, distressing and potentially life-threatening situation. Everyone must have timely and easy access to the emergency services and it’s brilliant news that Deaf people will now have equal access to 999 in their first language.  

We hope this major step will be followed by increased deaf awareness among emergency services staff, so that Deaf people facing an emergency can get the support they need.” 

Mark Atkinson, RNID Chief Executive
Timeline of our campaign

Autumn 2019: RNID, Sign Health and the UK Council on Deafness launched a campaign for a new emergency video relay service (VRS) for BSL signers. We told Ofcom that text relay and emergency SMS are not appropriate solutions for Deaf people who use BSL.

October 2019: We set up a Facebook group, “BSL access 999 emergency” where the Deaf community could share their experience of using the 999 phone line, to show Ofcom why it is essential to introduce a VRS. Over 4,000 people joined.

December 2019: Ofcom published a proposal for an emergency VRS. They invited people to provide feedback on the idea via their first consultation. Through our Facebook group, we successfully showed Ofcom that there is overwhelming support for a VRS and highlighted where they needed to do more work.

January 2021: RNID launched a petition to show Ofcom how important this is to our community. 874 people signed.

February 2021: A second consultation was launched on how to pay for the service. In our response, we called for the service to be implemented within a year and for Ofcom to keep working with the Deaf community during the entire process. We also proposed two key features:

  1. The service is completely free for users
  2. People will not need to register in advance.

June 2021: Ofcom approved plans for the emergency VRS!  They said it will be free, and that people will not need to register. They also agreed to launch the service in one year.

Summer 2021: Ofcom opened applications to find a VRS provider. Applicants had to show how they meet the ‘approved criteria’ that Ofcom had set up.

November 2021: Ofcom released a consultation to approve Sign Language Interactions (SLI) as the VRS provider for the service

Jan 2022: Sign Language Interactions won the contract to become the provider for the emergency VRS. They own ‘Sign Video’ and ‘InterpreterNow’.

April 2022: The name and logo for the service were published as “999 BSL” and a new website went live with advice and guidance about the service ahead of its launch.

June 2022: The service launches on 17 June 2022. People can now phone 999 in BSL using the 999 BSL app or website.

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