Thought Terrorism Was Going To Be Accessible? - Part 1
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 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
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