I texted 911 for the first time this past Sunday, August 9.
I was waiting for the bus around 8am when I noticed a woman bolt up from the bus stop bench and run across the street. She didn't start from the corner - this was right in the middle of the street. I thought perhaps it was an emergency, and didn't think too much of it since there was minimal traffic. Then I noticed her arm motions.
I've worked with enough diverse people to recognize psychological issues beyond everyday knowledge. It looked like she was warding off something or someone, as if she was being chased. This made me pause from my usual smartphone business, and I watched her complete the crossing. There was a parking lot opposite us, and she wandered into the middle and seemed undecided on what direction to take. Then she continued away from us, going onto the sidewalk and receding out of sight behind a building.
At this point, I simply thought it was unfortunate I couldn't do anything since she was already gone. I went back to my phone, but after a few minutes some motion caught my eye. Looking up, I saw the same woman running through the intersection toward my side of the street, but not toward me. She wasn't following any pedestrian path - she was running straight through the middle of the intersection, and her direction of travel was against a red light, causing several cars to stop dangerously. This was when I realized I needed to do something, but I wasn't qualified to help her directly (plus, I didn't know if her condition included violent tendencies).
Naturally I thought of 911, but this would be my first time using the Text to 911 service that recently was mandated in Canada and has been rolling out in the major regions. I'd signed up with Fido a few months ago and was pretty sure I remembered that I had to call 911 first, and allow the operator to note that my number required texting so they could send me a text message. I was nervous about just leaving the line open as the call ticked over into a minute and then two minutes, but worst case scenario the police would show up and I could explain in person.
Incredibly, I got a text and the call ended almost simultaneously.
Check out the ensuing text conversation in the attached photos.
(Note - currently typed.com seems to be having trouble displaying uploaded photos.)
(Afternote - figured out the photos. It was an issue with myself, not the site.)
In the first screenshot, you can see that I was able to respond and start a conversation that basically would be the same as if we had been signing or speaking. That, to me, is the epitome of accessibility.
However, while I was texting my initial response, my phone kept getting taken over by calls from 911. I think that because it's normal text message, there's no way for them to know if I am typing at the moment like with smarter messaging services. So they kept calling in order to ensure I was aware that they were awaiting a response. It makes sense, but it only caused me to take longer in finishing my text, and did a great job driving up my heart rate. After the initial back and forth, the calls stopped, so I believe it was part of their procedure.
In the second screenshot, when I say that I had to leave, I mean that my bus had arrived. I was going to an important event - if it had been anything else, I would have stayed on site. I felt bad about that, but as we see in the following screenshots, they were able to use my descriptions to find the woman and help her.
Altogether from the moment the woman jumped up from the bench to the termination of the 911 conversation, I think this took about 10 minutes. That's pretty reasonable response time, but I know that up to 2 minutes could have been shaved off if they hadn't taken so long to switch from the call to text. It's possible that because of how new the Text to 911 service is in Canada, the particular operator who got my call needed the time to consult proper procedure or otherwise encountered an unexpected barrier.
I was also tweeting the Edmonton Police Service at the time between placing the call and getting the first text, as I was still unsure if the connection had worked. You can check out the first one and a few following: https://twitter.com/TemporalThinker/status/630380226422255617
All in all, I'm extremely glad that it worked. 911 obviously saves lives, and now most Deaf individuals are much safer with this. The service doesn't include people who are vocally challenged, or may otherwise have difficulties speaking over the phone. Those are the next groups to include in this valuable service.