accessibility & help

How to request emergency help

There are many ways for deaf people and someone with a speech impairment to request emergency help.

Using Textphones (sometimes called “minicom”, “tdd” or “tty”) or TalkByText

SMS (texting from a mobile phone)

Enlisting help from others

Calling from a landline (fixed telephone) or payphone (without a textphone)

Calling from a mobile phone (without a textphone)

Using Textphones (sometimes called “minicom”, “tdd” or “tty”) or TalkByText

Text Relay is a service provided by BT that enables deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people who use textphones to make and receive calls to and from hearing people.  Text Relay is funded by the UK Communications Providers with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) managing the relay assistants who provide the voice to text translation.

A textphone or TalkByText user can contact the emergency services by dialing ‘18000’.  This call will be connected to the 999 service and translated by a Text Relay Assistant.

Please read the leaflet 'Emergency 18000' for further details. Please note: the Typetalk leaflet will be made available as a downloadable from our website. See below for a copy of this.

Further information about the Text Relay service can be found on the following website:

SMS (texting from a mobile phone)

The emergency SMS service is an add on to the existing 999 and 18000 services that are available in the UK. SMS text message will be connected to 999 through the Text Relay 18000 service, currently run by RNID. A relay assistant will speak SMS messages to the 999 advisor and then reply. You can register through the website.

In some areas, the emergency services can be contacted via local SMS – using a separate number (not using 999). Contact your local police station or visit their website to see if they provide the service.  

Enlisting help from others

In some situations, you may not want to leave someone that is injured to seek further help. If someone else is around, ask them to request help from the emergency services by contacting 999.

Remember, try and get them to communicate the following:

  • Which service required
  • Details of any hazards
  • Location of the incident
  • Type and gravity of the emergency
  • Number, gender and age of casualties
  • The telephone number used to make the call

Calling from a landline (fixed telephone) or payphone (without a textphone)

Just making a call and expecting a response is not sufficient.  The 999 service receives thousands of calls each day that are not requests for help but accidental calls, or due to children 'playing' with the phone, and these have to be carefully filtered to allow concentration on genuine calls.

If you cannot speak but are capable of making some sound, you are advised to try to make as much vocal sound as possible - for example: moans, grunts, or even screams will help convey that something is wrong. The 999 emergency operator will try to identify your call as a genuine request for help and can normally trace an address through the landline. If you can hear, they might ask you to tap the handset to confirm an answer to a question.

A deaf person dialling 999 from a landline will need to constantly repeat what help is needed and ideally also repeat the location. For example “There has been an accident, ambulance is needed, address is…”.  This can be started about five seconds after pressing the final 9 (of 999) as emergency calls are usually answered within five seconds.

The emergency service recognises the possibility that a genuine call might be made by someone who cannot hear, speak or make a sound. In this situation, your only option is to dial 999 and to try tapping the handset at regular intervals (about every five to ten seconds) which should help a 999 operator identify the call as genuine.

Calling from a mobile phone (without a textphone)

It’s best to only call 999 using a mobile phone if you are able to communicate the location or address where the emergency is taking place. If you can enlist a bystander to speak to the operator for you, do so. This is important as the emergency services are unable to trace exact locations via mobile phone signals. A trace - if available - would only give a very approximate location, typically that you are located somewhere within 12 square kilometres.

If you are alone and only have access to your mobile to make an emergency call, you should press 999 and follow the general guidance for landlines above. In circumstances where your only option is to tap the handset screen at regular intervals, on mobile handsets it may also help to press the '5' key twice at regular intervals (about every 10- 20 seconds).

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