Americans with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs Organizations

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Historically, alerting authorities relied heavily on radio and TV to send alerts, but these information sources do not always employ many of the emerging assistive technologies necessary for alerting those with disabilities, including the nearly 50 million Americans with hearing impairment. Importantly, the Executive Order that created the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) mandates that the U.S. government must “include in the public alert and warning system the capability to alert and warn all Americans, including those with disabilities and those without an understanding of the English language.” The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) is continually working to build a stronger and more inclusive alert and warning system

How is IPAWS Improving Alerting to Americans with Disabilities and others with Access and Functional Needs?

By creating the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), a standard for alert messages, IPAWS is providing an opportunity to improve emergency alert information delivery to Americans with disabilities and others with access and functional needs.  CAP alerts can transport rich multimedia attachments and links in alert messages.  The availability of additional content will enable industry partners to develop and provide special content and/or devices ideal for the disability and access and functional needs communities to receive emergency alerts.

The IPAWS PMO is engaging in collaborative working relationships with numerous non-profit and advocacy organizations to help communicate access and functional needs requirements to alert and warning industry partners. In cooperation with private sector industry, CAP-enabled technologies and products for those with disabilities and others with access and functional needs are routinely incorporated into IPAWS demonstrations and have been displayed at such events as: the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Annual Conference, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) Annual Conference, the IPAWS Congressional Demonstration, and the National Disabilities Rights Network (NDRN) Annual Conference. The IPAWS PMO has also participated in other events, including: the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase, FEMA Getting Real Conference, and IAEM’s Special Needs Committee meeting. The IPAWS PMO is continually working toward integrating additional technologies and encouraging industry innovation to meet the needs of all Americans.

IPAWS and Office of Disability and Integration and Coordination (ODIC) Roundtables

IPAWS PMO partners with FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination to initiate semi-annual Roundtables for Federal Partners and Industry Experts on disability-related issues. The Roundtables include representatives from  leading organizations representing Americans with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. These Roundtables are designed to provide periodic updates to our Industry and Federal partners, elicit information on emerging technologies and systems that can integrate CAP, and facilitate robust discussions between industry and advocacy organizations.

Recent roundtable discussions have included:

  • Developing a recognized set of emergency symbols for people with access and functional needs
  • Emerging technology and ongoing commercial and Federal initiatives that might be leveraged in support of the disability, access and functional needs communities
  • How to make public alerts and warnings more accessible to people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs

Emerging Assistive Technologies

Assistive Technology Products can enable people with disabilities, their caregivers and supportive family members, to accomplish daily living tasks, by assisting in communication, education, work or recreation activities, to help achieve greater independence and enhanced quality of life.

FEMA recognizes that people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs are a critical part of the nation’s emergency management team. It is incumbent upon the IPAWS PMO to reach out to the American people and ensure all segments of the American population understand the functions of the public alert and warning system and how to access, use, and respond to information from public safety officials.

The needs of the disability, access and functional needs communities are a critical consideration when developing technology to facilitate emergency and public safety communications. The IPAWS PMO has been able to identify emerging technologies and assistive technology products that support or provide direct alert and warning capabilities. While the list of devices can be extensive, the following are a representative sample of technologies currently undergoing IPAWS PMO operational testing and evaluations.

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) utilizes special output connectors on National Weather Radio (NWR) receivers to activate alerting devices such as bed shakers, pillow vibrators, sirens, and strobe lights. Those who use hearing aids or cochlear implants equipped with telecoils may also be able to use Aloop technology to listen to NWR broadcasts. Many NWR receivers are equipped with external output connectors that will accept an Aneckloop. The Aneckloop creates an electromagnetic field that couples with the NWR receiver to the telecoil in the hearing aid or cochlear implant, allowing the user to hear the broadcast. FM, infrared, and loop based Assistive Listening Devices can also be used. There are also some hearing aids and cochlear implants with adapter cables that can connect directly to the output of an NWR receiver.
  • NPR is moving the accessible media industry forward by introducing Captioned, Braille, and Blackboard Radios, as well as a new Radio Reading Service receiver, to electronics manufacturers. The new technologies come after years of extensive research by NPR Labs, America's only not-for-profit broadcast technology research and development center.
  • Alertus Beacons and AlertFM Wall Receivers attract attention with sounder and flashing strobes, while a large text display informs building occupants of the emergency and instructs them how to respond. The units are typically wall-mounted in high visibility areas such as lobbies, front offices, prominent spaces, and by elevators and stairways. They require local network or FM radio station integration to deliver alerts to beacons and receivers.
  • The new Signtel Sign Language Public Address and Emergency Alert System allows members of the public who are deaf to be addressed by sign language and the hearing by text and voice. The Sign Language Public Address and Emergency Alert System is now in Beta and available nationwide. This patent pending product is of major importance to ensure that deaf individuals can be warned, informed, guided, and directed by public address and emergency alert systems.
  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is Deaf Link's flagship service. With VRI, organizations can offer on demand, live interpreting for people who are deaf and hard of hearing who rely on American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. VRI provides the most time efficient and cost effective three-way communication between businesses or public agencies with their customers/clients/employees and a qualified interpreter. VRI works by connecting a hearing person, a deaf person (both in the same location) and a qualified ASL interpreter (located at our secure communication center) through a video conferencing unit.

Return to the FEMA IPAWS Home Page.

Last Updated: 
01/31/2014 - 12:50