Disability Rights New York filed a Federal complaint last week calling for New York City to upgrade its emergency services technology to accept text-to-911. The suit was filed on behalf of two New Yorkers who are unable to communicate by telephone. Text-to-911 is a service that allows users to text their emergency requests to 911, rather than having to call in an emergency.

The two New Yorkers named in the suit, Nick Dupree and Deborah LoGerfo, allege that local governments are discriminating against them by denying them direct access to emergency services.

“Seconds count in an emergency,” said Timothy A. Clune, executive director of Disability Rights New York. “New York needs to lead by example. Text-to-911 service would promptly provide our clients and thousands of other New Yorkers with equal and immediate access to critical emergency services.”

Though 20 counties in New York State already have texting capabilities, New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island have held out on adopting the technology.

Following the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this summer, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the Federal Communications Commission to allow New Yorkers to text 911 dispatchers during emergencies. Schumer explained that in addition to helping disabled residents, the technology can be beneficial in emergency situations where victims cannot speak, but can text. However, the capability still hasn’t been implemented.

According to the FCC, while the agency “encourages emergency call centers to begin accepting texts as text providers develop text-to-911 capability,” there is no mandate or requirement.

The complaint seeks an order requiring the city to implement text-to-911 services, as well as training city employees on disability rights and other relief.

While Dupree and LoGerfo might be seeking immediate implementation of the technology, New York City politicians don’t think it will be so quick. In July, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, D-Brooklyn, estimated that New York City residents would not be able to contact 911 dispatchers via texts for at least two years.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs