September is Deaf Awareness Month. It’s a chance to raise awareness about the challenges that South Africa’s four million Deaf and hard-of-hearing people continue to face. As a country, great strides have been made to foster a more Deaf-inclusive society – sign language is now part of the school curriculum, and it may soon be formally recognised in our Constitution as South Africa’s 12th official language.
“Yet more needs to be done to address the daily obstacles that Deaf and hard-of-hearing South Africans face, like accessing typically voice-based emergency services,”
says Jorge Mendes, Chief Officer of Consumer Business at Vodacom.
Accommodating a difference in human experience
According to the South African National Deaf Association, members of the Deaf community view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability. Accommodating this experience requires a reimagining of existing products and services like Vodacom’s 112 Emergency Service app.
Powered by ER24, the app works as a ‘middleman’ between the user and the emergency services provider – whether that’s the police, an ambulance, or fire services. Users can download the app from Google Play or the App Store and using the chat function is zero-rated for Vodacom’s Deaf and hard-of-hearing customers, as well as those who have communication difficulties. These users can also register their details in-app so that ER24 has this information at hand in case of an emergency.
“As part of Vodacom’s commitment to drive digital inclusion, we decided to develop a text-based element. This would be the first, and only, text-based emergency services app available locally to cater for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, and who have communication difficulties,”
adds Mendes. Vodacom engaged ER24, and they were excited to get on board. The inclusive changes to the app were developed in close consultation with people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, and who have communication difficulties so it could be as accessible and user-friendly as possible.
Emergency services accessibility means no voice required
On the reimagined Vodacom 112 Emergency Service app there is no need for a voice call at any point in the process. The user is kept updated on the estimated time of arrival (ETA) via text thanks to a trained call centre agent, and if it looks like an ETA will be lengthy, there are escalation channels. The changes made are helping the people who need it most. Recently, a Deaf person used the app to request emergency police assistance. He had just been assaulted and was petrified; his life was at stake. The app alert came through and he was already registered, so ER24 had all his information. The contact centre agent contacted the police on his behalf and kept him updated in-app via text throughout. Help was with him 30 minutes later.
“It’s imperative that we, as a techco, continue to foster digital inclusion as part of our purpose-driven strategy. I believe that the Vodacom 112 Emergency Service app is a critical tool to address accessibility gaps, as it ensures that everyone is empowered to be part of the digital journey – no matter their difference in human experience,”