Cambridge City

City Manager's Agenda Item
CMA 2019 #242
Sep 16, 2019 5:30 PM

A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-40, regarding a request to explore the possibility of hiring American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to translate at City press conference, and to explore the possibility of using an app, such as “Language Line Solutions” to enable officers and other City personnel to communicate with the deaf community.


Department:City Manager's Office, LADSponsors:
Category:Awaiting Report Response


  1. Printout


In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-40, regarding a request to explore the possibility of hiring American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to translate at City press conference, and to explore the possibility of using an app, such as “Language Line Solutions” to enable officers and other City personnel to communicate with the deaf community, Director of Emergency Communications and 911 Christina Giacobbe reports the following:

There are available resources through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to request ASL interpreter services for press conferences. Over the next year, the City will pilot the use of ASL interpreters for all City press conferences. During the pilot, costs and ASL interpreter availability will be tracked to assess future viability.  It is important to keep in mind that securing an ASL interpreter may be challenging during an immediate threat, and there may be times when the City is not able to secure an interpreter due to lack of availability.  In such instances, the City will seek to provide additional messaging through social media and the Cambridge Alert Network.   The Commission on Persons with Disabilities will confer and coordinate with the Police Department, Fire Department, Mayor’s Office and Public Information Office on the pilot initiative.

When first responders are responding in the field, they are faced with many challenges.  Effective communication between the community and public safety officials is integral to the safety and well-being of residents and visitors.  Currently, there is limited availability of smart devices that can be used or deployed to launch apps such as Language Line Solutions to connect virtual interpreters in real time for public safety officials.  We are continuing to explore smart devices that can be more versatile than the current deployment of cruiser and apparatus laptops.  However, in the meantime we have begun deploying a new tool to help residents, drivers, pedestrians and visitors who are Deaf or hard of hearing communicate better with public safety officials.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing recently released a Visor card for a visual tool for Police Officers and the Deaf and hard of hearing community.  The Visor cards are designed for attachment to a vehicle's sun visor and can be used by both the motorist and an officer, firefighter or EMS personnel to communicate more effectively with one another through the use of graphics.  For example, if an individual is pulled over by the Cambridge Police Department, an individual who is Deaf or hard of hearing can use this card for the purpose of immediate communication.

These Visor cards will provide an immediate tool that we believe will improve communication between police officers and drivers who are Deaf or hard of hearing during an encounter that can often be stressful as well as when interacting with the Fire Department and EMS personnel.  The Commission for Persons with Disabilities, Police, Fire and Emergency Communications Department will be collaborating with other departments and organizations to ensure we are able to make these cards available to community members.  We have attached a copy of the Visor/information cards as well as a wallet sized version that can be used by pedestrians and public safety officials.

With the help of other departments and community organizations, we will ensure outreach and public information efforts inform residents that this Visor tool is available.  In addition, we will explore other means to enhance communication with the deaf community such as:

·              Include additional opportunities for the deaf community to offer perspectives in planning, testing, training in communication with public safety departments.

·              Ensure accurate reception of Voice over Relay Service (VORS), IP, and Captioned Telephones calls and Text to 9-1-1 calls in the Emergency Communication Center (ECC).

·              Conduct additional outreach to the deaf community in general, and form relationships with community leaders to continue to enhance emergency services and fostering relationships.

·              Promote further training in interacting with deaf individuals for public safety officials and others.

·              Distribute materials that can help the deaf community interact with public safety officials during emergencies.


There are additional resources and tools that are currently in use to support the Deaf community in communicating with emergency services such as Text to 9-1-1, Cambridge Alert Network and Smart911.  Members and visitors of the community can contact emergency services by utilizing Text to 9-1-1 or dialing 9-1-1.  The current 9-1-1 system is currently equipped with the text feature and is currently being utilized by the Emergency Communications Center (ECC).  Text to 9-1-1 provides the disability community with another way to communicate with public safety agencies and request emergency services. The Emergency Communications Department has been working closely with the Fire and Police Department on outreach and education on this new tool.  The campaign has been focused on promoting responsible use of Text to 9-1-1.  As always, calling 9-1-1 is the quickest way to get emergency services.  However, we want to assure members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community that in the event they dial 9-1-1 and are not able to communicate, the Call Taker will process the call as a silent call and Police will be dispatched to assess and aid the caller immediately. 

Members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community can also sign up for emergency notifications through CodeRed.  CodeRED is an emergency notification system that allows the City to send emergency notifications to subscribers via email, text and phone calls.  This service is used in the event of emergencies affecting the City, such as snow emergencies, evacuations, large-scale water outages or other significant service disruptions.  We strongly encourage anyone who lives, works, attends school, owns property or is otherwise interested in being informed about emergencies connected to one or more Cambridge addresses to enroll online at <>. Once enrolled, residents are encouraged to set up an account so that it can be self- managed.  Because of this, it is vitally important that members of the community use CodeRED online subscription page to add their home phone (land line), cell phone numbers which receive text message notifications, email addresses, and VoIP-type phone numbers.

An additional tool to benefit members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community is Smart911.  Smart911 is an application that allows residents, workers, and visitors of Cambridge the opportunity to create a Smart911 Safety Profile that helps 9-1-1 call takers and first responders make faster and better decisions about care needed, increase response times, and save lives by having specific information related to the caller. By creating a free Smart911 Safety Profile at <> or on the Smart911 mobile app <>, first responders will have access to information such as medical conditions, disabilities/impairment, lists of medications, phone numbers, home and work addresses, family member information, photos and pet information can be included as well in the profile.  The Smart911 profile provides additional data to the Emergency Telecommunications Dispatcher (ETD) which allows for a faster, more effective response as the safety profile comes in to the ECC when the registered caller dials 911.  When members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community need to contact emergency services, this critical patient information allows first responders to prepare for treatment of the patient prior to arriving on scene and assessing the condition.  This results in better clinical care to our residents as well as responding to any emergency of the caller. 

Lastly, the Emergency Communications Department made a presentation to the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities on May 9, 2019.  The presentation focused on Text to 9-1-1, Smart911 and other resources that are available to the community for communicating with public safety departments.  In addition, we agreed to meet with the Commission annually or more frequent as needed to discuss improvements in communication and/or outreach efforts to engage with the disability community.   

Meeting History

Sep 16, 2019 5:30 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft

Puller for discussion by Councillor Zondervan

Questions from Mallon, community policing. Interested in officers uing personal

responses from Chistina Jiancoby, EMS director,