New York Counties Sued for Failing to Provide Text-to-911 Services

Cell phone in a person's hand, with an ambulance in the blurry background

by Andy Jones
January 17, 2017

Nicholas Dupree, a New York City resident, communicates primarily through text messages and eye tracking software. He is unable to speak on the telephone due to his tracheotomy.

In or around April 2016, Dupree “experienced several health emergencies,” but New York City’s 911 system provided him no means to communicate his concerns, putting his health at risk.

“Seconds count in an emergency,” Timothy A. Clune, executive director of Disability Rights New York, said in a news release. “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.”

Since 2014, multiple states and dozens of other New York State counties have implemented text-to-911 programs, but the nation’s largest city has not followed suit.

As such, DRNY filed a federal lawsuit January 3 [PDF] on behalf Dupree and two other individuals against the counties of all five boroughs, as well as Suffolk and Nassau counties, the two largest on Long Island, for failing to install text-to-911 services.

The allegations are brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates nondiscrimination by public entities against people with disabilities by requiring them to “take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with (people with disabilities)…are as effective as communications with others.”

“Individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, or have disabilities that impair their speech and communication, cannot report crimes, fires, motor vehicle incidents, or medical emergencies via text, placing these individuals and others at risk by delaying their access to emergency services,” the lawsuit states. “The failure to make 911 accessible to individuals with disabilities violates…the Americans with Disabilities Act.” 

Claims are also brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a predecessor to the ADA with similar requirements that apply to the federal government and recipients of federal funding. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights New York are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and New York, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.