And You Thought Terrorism Was Going To Be Accessible? – Part 1

And You Thought Terrorism Was Going To Be Accessible? – Part 1

by Randy Collins

Editor: Editor: We’ve been looking at the emergency captioning issue, and terrorism has certainly made that concern more pressing. It turns out that there are lots of other terrorism-related issues that affect people with hearing loss. Here’s Randy Collins (Randy.Collins@NAU.EDU) with a report on some of the things his organization is doing to remedy the situation.

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The story goes that Albert Einstein didn’t talk until he was 4 years old. One day during lunch with the family Albert suddenly spoke.

“This soup is cold.”

His mother with tears streaming down her cheeks said, “Albert, oh little Albert, you can speak. Why have you not spoken before?”

“Well up to now the soup’s been fine.”

As far as all things related to emergency services and people who are hard of hearing or deaf are concerned we can’t say the soup has been fine up until now but we’ve gotten by OK. September 11 changed all that for us. Now not knowing what everyone else knows could really get us killed. I often tell people that my job in society as a hard of hearing person is to sometimes respond inappropriately to reasonable requests. I am forever in the wrong line, at the wrong room, in the wrong building because the directions sounded clear to me at the time. Just like many of you I am often last to know many things. These days my life may very well depend acting appropriately as a result of knowing the correct information as soon as everyone else knows it. I am more concerned than I have been in the past.

Last summer I received a TTY call from a deaf person near Tucson asking if, as a result of a bio-terror attack, the smallpox vaccination film we will be required to see before we are vaccinated will be captioned. What? What bio-terror attack? What film? I had no idea what he was talking about. He’d read the information somewhere and he tried to contact people in government here in Arizona and at the CDC in Atlanta. It was for him a daunting task using a TTY and relay. He never was able to talk to anyone who had the answer and those who promised to call back never did. He called me and asked if I could help. I’ve been doing that ever since. Now I am very much involved in trying to make Arizona emergency planning and response accessible for all people with disabilities but in particular for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

There is no way of knowing now how many people I have talked to trying to find answers to the vaccination question. To this day I still don’t have an answer, but I know a great deal more now than I did when I started. Much of what I know concerns me. It needs to be said that through my experience I have not encountered anyone who is maliciously leaving us out. But I have encountered more than a few people who didn’t respond or didn’t follow through perhaps because they don’t see where the needs and concerns of people with disabilities fit into their planning and preparation – which, ironically, is exactly the reason I contacted them. In short, for the most part the process of getting the information, getting answers, is a slow, grinding, uphill slog. But we’ve made progress. Some people have been fantastic. The Arizona Fire Departments have been the most responsive of any group so far. Our state 911 Director and the State Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordinator have been completely accessible and most helpful, and eager to do more. Still many people at state and local levels who are responsible for emergency services are not aware that people with disabilities have concerns. We are still in the process of identifying all the players in the emergency mix. I’m discovering that they aren’t always aware of each other.

We have formed an Emergency Services Committee that consists of fire chiefs and firemen throughout the state, the chair of the Governor’s Statewide Independent Living Council, the State ADA Director, the Deaf Specialist from the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing and myself (hard of hearing and Coordinator of Outreach/Training for the Arizona Technology Access Program). The committee is productive. We’ve accomplished a number of things, and through the assistance of the wife of a retired fire chief we were able to weasel our way into the one of the largest disaster (chemical terror) trainings to date as “victims” with disabilities.

The training was full scale, which means that it was as close to the real thing as possible. Planned and executed by the Department of Justice and the Glendale (AZ) Fire Department the effort involved many agencies, including police, military, state and local emergency personnel and 7 area hospitals. Some “victims” were actually life-flighted by helicopter to local hospitals while others were taken by ambulance. There were 450 volunteer participants in all. As far as we know only 7 volunteers were people with disabilities, including one deaf and 3 hard of hearing.

As people with disabilities our intent was to assist “the system” in discovering where it is not accessible. Once the Glendale Fire Department understood our purpose they were more than happy to have us join the training. They wanted our constructive feedback. Any real disaster is going to affect people with disabilities just as it does everyone else. It is to our mutual advantage to encounter the problems in drill when problems don’t cost lives.

Here’s Part Two