Canvassing the Current and New Accessibility Issues Arising from 911’s Transition to NG911

(by Sanam Analouei, Colorado Law 2L)

As the United States embarks on the ambitious journey to transform its emergency service infrastructure with Next Generation 911 (NG911), I developed a white paper delving into the pressing accessibility concerns surrounding this life-saving system, especially for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf Blind (D/HH, or DB). The white paper explores the promises and pitfalls of NG911, revealing a landscape fraught with unresolved issues that could leave people in the D/HH or DB community struggling to access vital emergency services. The paper is divided into two sections: pre and on-call issues and post-call concerns.

Part I explores the historical interaction people who are D/HH and DB have had with 911 services, from the early days of Teletypewriters (TTY) and Video Conferencing Services (VRS) to the nascent potential of Direct Video Conferencing (DVC). Despite the technological advancements under NG911, the paper sheds light on the many challenges that lie ahead, including funding difficulties, data storage concerns, and the generational divide in accessibility technologies. Additionally, DOJ regulations and policies (or lack of) concerning 911 accessibility are also examined, revealing a system that has yet to catch up with the needs of the D/HH or DB community.

Part II delves into the aftermath of 911 calls made by people who are D/HH or DB. The paper unveils the privacy minefield associated with the collection of video recordings and other 911 data, and the inconsistencies in state laws governing access to 911 records. This section also delves into the special interests of people who are D/HH or DB have in accessing 911 video conferencing calls, records, and transcripts to evaluate emergency service responses. 

In conclusion, while NG911 promises a new era of emergency communication, our investigation reveals a multitude of unresolved challenges that threaten 911 access for all, especially for people who are in the D/HH or DB community. Although the goal of his paper is to provide a landscape of the current issues concerning 911/NG911, the paper calls for a more concerted effort by the DOJ, Congress, and local and state governments to address these issues and ensure that life-saving 911 services are accessible and equitable for all.