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Planning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Posted in: Man Made Disasters Started by

Planning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

By Gideon F. For-mukwai, CEM

sign-languageThere is a saying that that you are only as good as your weakest link. This is very true in emergencies.

Today, I learned that planning for the deaf and hard of hearing was far more challenging that I ever taught. I was indeed fortunate to be at the Washoe County Regional Emergency Operations Center to learn first hand the issues that the deaf and hard of hearing face during emergencies.

It was an eye opener in that it takes more than just an SMS text message to notify this segment of the population. I was very fortunate to attend the session on the use of CityWatch System to deliver SMS text messages to the deaf and hard of hearing from the Nevada Association of the Deaf.

Mr. Aaron Kenneston,CEM, the Regional Emergency Manager hosted the session and answered questions on current challenges and opportunities. By the end of the session, I had learned so much and I went away telling myself that their problems are a microcosm of many other vulnerable populations out there.

deaf-and-hard-of-hearingAs a certified emergency manager who was once a fire captain, I have seen first hand the unpleasant side of emergencies and how this can make or break families of vulnerable populations who do not receive information like most of the people.  Thus, this invitation was a great opportunity to re-examine myself, what I know and what I can share with fellow colleagues in public safety.

Issues Emergency Managers Must Consider When Planning to Reach the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

  • Ensure that you have TTY phones. For more about TTY phones check out this link. I was delighted to know that Washoe County has this system in place. In Washoe County the TTY line during an emergency is 775 325 6858.
  • If possible have a Face to Face Communicator, Ubi Duo, a system that enables communication between a deaf and hard of hearing person and a person who is not skilled in sign language
  • Ensure that dispatch center has a video phone capability so that the deaf and hard of hearing can reach back
  • Ensure that close caption Tv does not run emergency announcements scripts at the bottom of the Tv screen, these often obscure the close caption information for the deaf and hard to hear.
  • Plan to have on hand, a sign language interpreter for major emegencies

As I sat through the session learning about their needs, I was reminded of the fact that in every city, town or hamlet across the world, there are vulnerable people whose lives can be improved by implementing these systems. I appreciated County Emergency Manager ‘s effort to reach out to the deaf and hearing challenged directly.

If you plan to engage and listen to the deaf and hard of hearing in your community, make sure you have an interpreter on hand. In the case of Washoe County, Ms. Andrea Juillerat, a 10 year veteran of sign language, was on hand to interpret the forum. Without her contribution, the session would have been impossible.

If you have a comment about this story or other issues relating the deaf and hard of hearing, or visually challenged, please leave me a comment and let me know how I can facilitate a public conversation about this topic.