NEW YORK – Five tools new to help people who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind are being used for Hurricane Sandy disaster response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
At New York disaster recovery centers, survivors who are blind or have low vision are using text-to-speech software and a variety of magnifiers to access FEMA information. Survivors who are deaf or hard of hearing are offered enhanced listening devices, iPad 3s with real-time-video remote sign language interpreting apps, and captioned phones to get disaster recovery information accessible to them.
These five assistive technology tools are part of a kit that costs FEMA less than $4,000. For price comparison, a single sign-language interpreter at one disaster recovery center can cost more than $400-a-day. (Federal law mandates that equal access to effective communication be available the entire time that a recovery center is open, usually eight hours daily.) On-site interpreters are available upon request, but for immediate access, interpreters are provided via on-line Wi-Fi and cellular connections, similar to the use of Skype.
“The tools were selected after considering many options that would work in the aftermath of a disaster,” says Marcie Roth, director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination.
“We’ve been engaging the real experts, people who use these tools on a regular basis, as our planning partners,” she explains. “We are so far ahead of where we were, even a year ago, but that doesn’t mean that we’re there yet. We’re in a position where we’re using for the first time some of the most advanced technology in one of the worst disasters. This is a great teachable moment, but we have to make sure no one falls through the cracks in this learning curve.”
The five new tools at each disaster recovery center are:
- iPad 3 – this device has many apps to provide enlarged text for people with low vision, picture symbols for people with low literacy or communication disabilities, immediate access to sign language interpreters for people who are deaf and many other tools for immediate communication access
- Magnifying Readers – Enlarges text for people with low vision
- Enhanced Listening Devices – improves the clarity of sound for people who are hard of hearing, especially helpful for older adults in noisy settings like a Disaster Recovery Center.
- Live Video Interpreting – provides immediate access to sign language interpreters standing by at a remote location to provide access to people who are deaf.
- Captioned Phones – provide real-time voice-to-text for people who can speak on the phone but cannot hear the caller on the other end.“We’re not working for people with disabilities,” adds Marcie Roth, “we’re working with people with disabilities.”
- Accessibility Tools in a DRC: http://www.fema.gov/medialibrary/media_records/7188
- Assistive Technologies at Disaster Recovery Centers: http://www.fema.gov/medialibrary/media_records/9367
- Disability Integration (Use of Interpreters in the DRC): http://www.fema.gov/medialibrary/media_records/7506