The 112 Emergency Service was inducted in 2017 through a partnership between ER24 and Vodacom. Initially, this voice call service provided direct and easy access to emergency medical services for Vodacom customers.

However, the two stakeholders noticed a barrier in operations that hampered people who are deaf, hearing impaired and/ or have speech issues. 

Experience in accessibility Vodacom has been providing accessible products and services for the hearing impaired since 2004, says Karen Smit, chairperson of the Vodacom Africa Accessibility Forum and one of the people involved in the initiation of this project. “This gave us an opportunity to further expand our mandate of providing accessible services,” she explains. In turn, ER24 uses a best-in-class computer dispatch system, and Contact Centre staff are trained to take calls, dispatch services, and assist with telephonic advice. Together with feedback from the deaf community, ER24 and Vodacom created an all-inclusive solution to make the service accessible to deaf and hearing-impaired people. 

From text-based to smartphone tech “In most instances, emergency services can only be contacted by voice call,” says Smit. The two stakeholders addressed this oversight, making the ability to request emergency medical help more inclusive. In 2018, they created a free-to-use 112 SMS service. Soon after, an app followed, which can be downloaded from the Apple and Google Play Store. Everything is text- and touch-based and is more seamless than the SMS version. The app and the SMS service operate in a similar way, allowing users to specify which service they need, what type of emergency it is, and where the emergency is happening. App users can also identify their disability, and whether they have any other conditions or allergies. This gives Contact Centre staff and medical teams easier access to vital patient insights. 

User-friendly service a success Smit says they’ve received positive feedback from deaf and hearing-impaired users. According to Rajes Govender, Contact Centre Co-Ordinator for ER24, the user-friendly interface is key to this success, as it empowers the deaf and hearing impaired to request emergency services on their own. “The app is efficient and easy to use,” she says. “Its interactive interface is designed to maximise the customer’s experience while minimising hassle.” 

How it works  Once an emergency is reported, ER24 will dispatch the necessary service to the scene, says Govender. “The 112 Emergency Service app has its own team of dedicated agents handling requests. These agents are trained to keep the caller calm and will check in constantly until help arrives,” she adds. 

Digital solutions for all “As an organisation committed to connecting millions of South Africans for a better future, it became evident that we needed to address the needs of those who are vulnerable,” says Smit. “As a brand that believes in inclusion for all, Vodacom works hard to promote an inclusive digital society, regardless of age, income, or disability. We will continue to launch accessible products that offer solutions to people who need them most.”