West Midlands' police force has launched a text messaging service for people with speech and hearing difficulties — the first of its kind in the UK.

The new service will help citizens to contact the police in an emergency via their mobile handsets.

The scheme follows a survey of people with a range of disabilities conducted by the BBI (Birmingham Blind Institute). It showed that 98 percent of hearing impaired people regularly used text messaging services and that of these, 89 percent are in favour of an emergency texting scheme.

"Most forces offer a Minicom system, but [this] only provides limited flexibility, unlike text messaging. We hope that by offering text messaging we can provide a quality service to a large group of people who, in the past, have had a real difficulty making contact with their local police," said Max Corney, the force's IT communications manager.

The service will only be available to people who live in the West Midlands, but other forces have already shown an interest in running a similar scheme.

People who wish to use the service will have to apply in writing and their details will be placed on a database, stored at the main force Communications Centre.

"As a deaf person myself, I recognise the missing link which is crucial for deaf communities to be able to contact the emergency services," said Tim Humpherson, who works in Crime Support at the West Midlands force.

"I hope this idea will be extended to other police forces across the country as it will be of great benefit to deaf and speech impaired people," added Humpherson.

The scheme will go live on next Monday.