Richard Ray started working for the city of Los Angeles under Mayor Tom Bradley about 26 years ago. As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Technology Access Coordinator, his focus is to facilitate access for people with disabilities to all city services and activities.
He’s worked long and hard to bring city services into the 21st century for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Ray’s passion is personal: He is deaf himself. He points to helping individuals with disabilities gain access to 911 emergency services via text message rather than via teletypewriter (TTY) as one of his proudest accomplishments.
In December 2017, Los Angeles announced that mobile users in L.A. County could text 911 in an emergency. The service is available throughout the county and is slated for use only by those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.
Before this system went live, Ray said, it could take third-party relay service users more than three minutes for an interpreter to come on the line, putting deaf people at risk when seconds count. “The national standard for answering 911 calls is 10 seconds,” he said. “This is not equal access; that is why 911 texting is so important.”
He says this is a stepping stone into the next generation for 911 access. “TTY is 60 years old,” he said. “Deaf people have been using mobile devices for quite a while,” he said. As a next step, Ray hopes to see video-enabled 911 access for individuals with disabilities.
Ray is also focused on making national emergency broadcasts accessible to those who cannot hear well. And as co-chair of the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee since 2015, he’s in a good position to move this issue forward too. Currently mass notification systems don’t function consistently throughout the country — a particular challenge for people who need an interpreter or video relay, he said. Frequently people with disabilities are kicked off the message system or the “system simply breaks down,” he said. “My focus this year is to heighten awareness nationally so that everyone receives the same information.”
Elizabeth Zima is a former staff writer for Government Technology. She has written in depth on topics including health care, clinical science, physician relations and hospital communications.