Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

Hearing-impaired Hongkongers urge police to upgrade 992 SMS emergency service

Charity Silence says number should support multimedia as many users struggle to write text messages in an emergency

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 9:01am

Deaf residents of Hong Kong have urged the police to upgrade their 992 emergency SMS hotline for the hearing impaired to support multimedia, after the service drew criticism over long delays and a cumbersome texting process.

Christine Chu Chi-yan of Silence, a charity that serves the hearing impaired, said her group was poised to lodge a formal complaint with the city’s equality watchdog about the obstacles faced by many people using the 992 number.

The service, akin to the 999 emergency call function, was launched in 2004 and targets those with speech and hearing impairments. Users must be preregistered to use the service, which allows them to send text messages to the police in emergencies.

Chu said she often experienced long delays and lamented that the police seldom arranged for sign language interpreters to accompany officers responding to cases concerning those with hearing disabilities.

In October this year, the 35-year-old sprained her leg at home and texted a message to 992 which said: “I fell down at home and can’t walk. Please arrange an ambulance for me.”

A police operator replied after one minute, asking for her location and whether she was able to open the front door for ambulance officers. The back-and-forth exchange via text message took three minutes. The ambulance arrived at her house in about half an hour, Chu said.

“I was in pain but still had to keep texting and explain my situation. If I had a serious injury, I doubt I would have had the ability to send an SMS to the police,” she said.

The current 992 service only supports text and not photos, video or location sharing, which Chu deemed vital for reporting emergencies.

“Texting takes up a lot of time and causes long delays in reporting emergencies. Why don’t they upgrade their system to allow multimedia functions?” she said. “Those without hearing impairments can report an emergency in seconds over the phone.”

The phone service carrier also charges for every text sent, which Chu said was unfair when calling 999 was free of charge.

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Car cleaner Kane Cheung Chung-kit, 31, has a hearing impairment and said Chu’s experience resonated with his own. He recently changed his phone number and found he was unable to use 992, since he had registered for the service with the old one.

He said he had experienced harassment on the street in June and reported it to the police via 992 but never got a reply. It was not until afterwards that he realised he had to first deregister his old number and register the new one to continue using the service.

“I believe this is discrimination because 999 is accessible to everyone and doesn’t require prior registration,” Cheung said. “I am very disappointed that no one came to my rescue.”

A police spokesman said: “If a user cannot provide their location in an SMS, the police can send officers to their registered address for assistance ... The registration process reduces the amount of nuisance messages.”

He said police would deploy sufficient staff to aim to reply to each 992 message sent in nine seconds and would look into the possibility of upgrading the system to one that supported videos and photos.

A spokeswoman for the Equal Opportunities Commission said the Disability Discrimination Ordinance protected the disabled against unfavourable treatment or “detriments” due to their disabilities, and the commission would welcome inquiries or complaints if needed.