Text-to-911 program begins this week in Nova Scotia

Community college program helps educate hearing students about deaf community

Jim McDermott teaches his ASL class at NSCC waterfront campus. Photo: Angela Crozier


Faculty and students at the Nova Scotia Community College are excited for the release of text-to-911, a program beginning Jan.15 allowing deaf Nova Scotians to text in their emergency.

Jim McDermott, a deaf teacher in NSCC’s deaf studies program, says it’s a major barrier that has been broken down.

“Imagine the concern if an emergency showed up and we wouldn’t be able to make a call,” McDermott said in a recent interview.

Before this, he would be forced to rely on someone else to make the call. He’s also happy he’ll be able to help somebody else and contact 911 in the event of a nearby emergency.

The Video Relay Service, which allows deaf people to make phone calls over a computer, is another service for the deaf community, set for release in fall 2015. McDermott says it will break down barriers even further.

McDermott, who teaches an American Sign Language class at NSCC’s waterfront campus, makes sure his 14 students are aware of the benefits of these programs. The ASL class is part of the one-year deaf studies program that teaches students about deaf culture. In the past two years, the program has taught a few deaf students, but this year only hearing students are enrolled.

In deaf studies, hearing students are provided a better background on the barriers facing deaf and hard of hearing people in Halifax: accessibility, access to information and public events. McDermott says there are many situations where a hearing person has an advantage over deaf residents, like easy access to 911.

In a deaf community events class, students partner up with deaf local organizations each fall to plan fundraising or social events. This is something that McDermott says benefits both the students and the community.

“There is an expectation (students) socialize in the community,” says McDermott.

Krista Holdright and Sydney Manyk converse in sign language. Photo: Angela Crozier

Krista Holdright, a deaf studies student who worked for a sign language interpreting company for six years, took the program after she realized she was the only non-signing person at her job.

“After a while, I wanted to know what was going on,” she says.

Her classes help Holdright understand the obstacles deaf people face in Halifax.

“I worked for years with deaf people and interpreters who interact with deaf people and I had no idea about any of the cultural differences. A lot of things surprise you. … You see yourself as compassionate, but then as a hearing person you realize they do have barriers you didn’t know they had,” says Holdright.

She says services like text-to-911 and the Video Relay Service are “long overdue”.