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Alerting People with Disabilities and Access and Functional Needs

Executive Order 13407 mandates that the federal government “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 Integrated Public Alert and Warning System office is working endlessly to build a stronger and more inclusive alert and warning system.

Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)

The CAP standard provides an opportunity to improve emergency alert information delivery to people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. CAP alerts can transport rich multi-media attachments and links in alert messages. The use of CAP enables industry partners to develop content and/or devices that can be used by people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs to receive emergency alerts.

Multiple Languages

The use of CAP provides public safety officials the capability to create alerts in multiple languages for transmission via IPAWS.  

Emergency Alert System devices found at radio, TV and cable stations can support multiple languages. It’s up to the individual stations, however, to determine which languages are played in their area. Wireless Emergency Alerts can support both English and Spanish alerts. The alert language displayed on a phone is dependent on the phone type and settings on the phone.

Symbols for Alerting - Symbology

The National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation, in partnership with FEMA’s IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO), the Department of Homeland Security Geospatial Management Office, and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, developed a series of symbols that make public alerts and warnings more effective for people with visual disabilities, hearing disabilities, or those who have limited English proficiency. Currently, 48 symbols cover non-administrative IPAWS event codes.

View the Symbol Library

Assistive Technologies

Assistive technology products can enable people with disabilities and access and functional needs, 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’s IPAWS PMO has identified emerging technologies and assistive technology products that support or provide direct alert and warning capabilities for people with disabilities. Examples include: braille readers, wall beacons, sign language interpretation, and video remote interpreting.The IPAWS PMO is continually working toward integrating additional technologies and encouraging industry innovation to meet the needs of all people.  E

Partnerships and Demonstrations

FEMA is working to integrate additional technologies to help communicate disability requirements to alert and warning industry partners. FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) PMO  showcases CAP-enabled technologies and products for people with disabilities through national conferences and meetings.

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

Previously, the IPAWS PMO partnered with FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination to conduct annual roundtables for federal partners and industry experts on disability-related concerns. The roundtables included leading organizations representing people with disabilities and others from the access and functional needs community. These roundtables were designed to provide periodic updates to industry and federal partners, elicit information on emerging technologies and systems that can integrate CAP, and facilitate robust discussions between industry and advocacy organizations.

Past roundtable discussions included:

  • Developing a recognized set of emergency symbols for people with access and functional needs
  • Assistive communication technology research being conducted in universities across the nation
  • Emerging technology and ongoing commercial and federal initiatives that might be leveraged in support of the disability, access and functional needs communities
  • Making public alerts and warnings more accessible to people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs
Last updated Aug 5, 2020

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