NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Advocates for the disabled are suing New York City and the Long Island suburbs for not providing a 911 texting service.
A similar service is in place upstate and in dozens of other states, but downstate residents who can’t hear or speak are still unable to reach 911 in an emergency, TV 10/55 Long Island Bureau Chief Richard Rose reported.
Every year, 911 operators on Long Island handle thousands of emergency calls, but while anyone in need of help can call 911, they cannot text them.
“I need the written word, and people like me need the written word in everything,” Deborah Logerfo, of Farmindale, said.
Logerfo suffers from hearing loss. She can read lips, but can’t hear callers. So her main means of communication is by text.
A few years ago, she saw a roadside accident and called 911 anyway.
“I called 911 and said, ‘Listen, I’m reporting a car fire, but I can’t hear what you’re saying,'” she said.
Logerfo and her civil rights attorney say only being able to call 911 simply isn’t good enough.
“Many clients with communication disabilities cannot speak, so they would have no way to communicate whatsoever with 911 services,” Elizabeth Grossman, with Disability Rights New York, said.
Suffolk County police said they cannot comment on the ongoing litigation, but said they will have 911 texting in place within six months. The chief of the department said the new $800,000 expansion of the service will initially be limited to just texts.
“We may be fully built out and be able to take photo messages and video messages, but the telephone companies may not be ready to support that,” Chief Stuart Cameron said.
Cameron said he hopes to add photo and video by the end of the year.
Logerfo’s attorney said the county has been promising service for years, but residents have waited long enough.
“If we cannot come to a voluntary agreement on this issue, we’ll be looking for a court order,” Grossman said.
Suffolk County police said part of the delay is that they must wait for the funds to be distributed from a dedicated fee on cellphone bills.
Meanwhile, Nassau County police said they will unveil their 911 texting plan sometime in the spring, and city attorneys said they are reviewing the lawsuit.