A new Text to 911 service in D.C. aims to improve accessibility for residents who aren’t able to call for emergency help.

In a news release announcing the new offering, Mayor Muriel Bowser said it provides “an immediate connection to emergency services,” to people “who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have a speech disability, as well as those who could be put in more danger by calling 911.”

Officials are emphasizing, though, that residents should continue to call rather than text 911 whenever possible.

The new text service requires a smartphone capable of sending text messages, and Location Services must be enabled. The text messages should be “brief, easily understood, and in plain English (no abbreviations, shortcuts, or slang),” the release says.

The D.C. Office of Unified Communications worked with Gallaudet University and the Federal Communications Commission to test and improve the new tool. The service is one step toward evolving the District to “Next Generation 911,” a nationwide effort to modernize 911 systems, according to Karima Holmes, who directs the D.C. communications office.