Friday, December 11, 2009

Hard of hearing or deaf? Taking extra steps to be prepared can pay off

Disasters are difficult on everyone. But if you are hearing impaired or deaf, dealing with disasters can be overwhelming — a crisis that poses unique problems that many people may overlook.

If you are hearing impaired, it’s important to take a few extra steps to be prepared for an emergency. If you use hearing aids, it’s a good idea to store extra hearing aids and implants — and extra batteries — in your emergency kit or close at hand, according to preparedness advocates. If you use pagers, captioned telephones or other communication equipment designed for those who are hard of hearing, it’s important to keep these devices charged at all times. Also, consider installing both audio and visual fire alarms in your home.

Notifying others such as family, neighbors and emergency personnel of your needs can help ensure that they’re able to help you during emergency situations if you need them.

Good communication during a disaster can make for a smoother experience. Have paper and pens on hand so that you can convey messages to others and consider carrying with you a copy of important messages such as: "I use American Sign Language and need an ASL interpreter," or "If you make announcements, I will need to have them written or signed."

On the community level, encourage emergency response organizations like the American Red Cross to recruit volunteers with ASL interpreting skills to ensure that safety procedures are understood by all. Remind TV stations to show ASL interpreters on camera during emergencies or to broadcast all news and emergency information in open caption formats. And, if you don’t already know ASL, try to learn it and encourage others to as well.

For the more than 70 million deaf people worldwide, dealing with disaster emergencies poses its own unique challenges. While it is nearly impossible to change the course of a natural disaster, by planning, communicating and advocating ahead of time, it can make dealing with these events much easier for everyone.

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