For National Preparedness Month, we continue our blog series with AbleData on preparedness resources for people with disabilities with a look at resources for people with auditory disabilities, that is people who are Deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing. As we discussed in Emergency Preparedness and People with Visual Disabilities, people with disabilities and older adults may be adversely affected by disasters, natural or man-made. They may face challenges in receiving timely alerts, being able to evacuate, maintaining or losing necessary assistive devices or medical equipment, and other issues.
To make things easier during an emergency or evacuation situation, it can help to prepare ahead of time. Using key principles from National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities (PDF), below are some tips and resources to help individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing prepare for and stay safe during an emergency:
- Individuals with auditory disabilities may have difficulty receiving emergency alarms that are exclusively auditory. Choose warning systems such as fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and other types of emergency alert systems which provide visual cues, such as strobe or flashing lights and vibrational cues.
- Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) keep you up to the minute on emergencies in your community, but it’s important to be able to access these alerts and understand them. Learn more about WEA and apps for enhancing WEA access from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Inclusive Technologies (Wireless RERC)
- The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) offers an app to help everyone, including people with auditory disabilities, keep informed through real time alerts from the National Weather Service, learn emergency safety tips for over 20 types of disasters, and locate open emergency shelters and disaster recovery centers in their area. FEMA also has an information sheet full of tips for people with auditory disabilities (PDF) such as alarms, communication during an emergency, and advocacy and includes a checklist of some actions to take before an emergency occurs.
- Create an emergency plan that includes information on how to evacuate with AT devices and resources for replacing equipment if lost or broken during evacuation is important. People with auditory disabilities may need to keep model information along with where the equipment came from (e.g., Medicaid, Medicare, VA, private insurance, etc.).
- The NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC) created a webcast, Disaster preparedness for people with complex communication needs: A personal perspective, that shares the personal experiences of Pamela Kennedy, a consumer with complex communication needs who survived the Grand Forks flood of 1997. She describes her experiences during an emergency. She also describes 7 steps for emergency preparation that are critical for all people with complex communication needs.
- When creating your emergency plan and emergency kit, ensure there is enough medication to last. There are number of vibrating medication reminders on the market that may help prepare. If you use a hearing aid, make sure that your kit includes hearing aid batteries and a backup communication aid, such as a pen and paper, mobile device, or UbiDuo 2 Wireless. You will also want extra batteries for all your AT that requires them and for the flashlight in your kit. In case electricity goes out, make sure that you have a backup option to use to get help, such as a tablet or cell phone to email/text for help, a generator if possible, and extra batteries.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information and resources for pets/service animals in emergencies. This information includes what to bring in case of emergency, resources for making a plan for a service animal, and how to create a service animal disaster preparedness kit. This information is available in Spanish.
- Vanderbilt University has created a tip sheet, Emergency Preparedness for individuals with Hearing Loss: A Family Guide (PDF), that provides information and resources for people with hearing loss and other auditory disabilities that includes information about service dogs and devices to alert people with hearing loss about potential disasters in their homes. It also includes resources such as emergency warnings for people with hearing loss from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios (PDF) and the Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing of Tennessee.
- The National Association of the Deaf provides information and resources for the Deaf community related to emergency preparedness, including resources for individuals and for their communities, access to televised emergency information, and why you should not discard your TTY.
- Brainline, a service from WETA, provides disaster readiness tips for people with sensory disabilities that include setting up a support network at home, work, and school, considering purchasing a National Weather Radio (NWR), and being prepared to tell shelter operators what your needs are.
- Do not hesitate to contact your local Center for Independent Living (CIL), who can help you find local information and resources on emergency preparedness, individual and systems advocacy, and more.
If you are an emergency planner in your community, it’s important to consider the unique needs of people who are Deaf or have hearing loss. Here are some things to consider:
- As noted above, choose emergency alert systems that include both auditory and visual signals, such as alarms and flashing lights.
- Keep in mind that individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing may rely on lip reading and/or sign language to gather information and communicate with others. Poor lighting (e.g., as in power outages) may adversely affect these forms of communication. Many people with hearing loss or other auditory disabilities may use hearing aids to amplify and clarify sounds. Echoes, reverberations, and extraneous background noises tend to intensify during emergency situations and may distort hearing aid transmissions.
- Once notified of the emergency, people who are Deaf or hard of hearing may be able to read and follow the standard exit and directional signs and use standard means to exit the building or go to the area of refuge. Some individuals who have both hearing and visual disabilities, such as those who are deaf-blind, may need assistance if there is little to no light because they may have to navigate without visual references. Learn about the best ways to assist a person with visual disabilities in this video guide from the Lighthouse Guild. Learn more about preparing shelter staff to meet the communication needs of people with disabilities in the guide (PDF) from the city of Seattle.
- Some people with auditory disabilities may require a service animal. The Department of Labor offers a tip sheet for emergency planners on aiding individuals with service animals during an emergency (PDF).
- Consider bringing representatives from the Deaf community into discussions on emergency planning in your community. Inclusive preparedness starts with making a space at the table for everyone.
If you would like to find more local resources and information for people with auditory disabilities in your community, call 2-1-1.
Over the years, NIDILRR has funded research projects on emergency preparation and safety for people with disabilities. We looked at the history of these research projects and the newest efforts funded by NIDILRR in Inclusive Disaster Preparedness – Progress Made, Progress to Come, part of our NIDILRR at 40 series. NARIC’s information specialists searched REHABDATA and found over 50 articles from the NIDILRR community and beyond on emergency preparedness and auditory disabilities. They also searched for emergency preparedness and found over 250 articles from the NIDILRR community and beyond. If you would like to learn more about emergency preparedness and AT for people with auditory disabilities, please contact NARIC’s information specialists.
Check out other articles in this series: