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Course: Emergency Responders and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community: Taking the First Steps to Disaster Preparedness

Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN)

January 1, 2011

Approximately one of every 10 people in the United States, over 30 million, has some degree of hearing loss. The complex communication issues faced by the vast numbers of people who are deaf or hard of hearing pose staggering challenges. Even more striking are the obstacles posed in communicating with individuals who have a hearing loss during an emergency situation or national disaster.

Depending upon the age of onset of hearing loss, different sets of problems may arise. If the hearing loss occurs during infancy or early childhood – the years of language acquisition – it is likely that the individual has English as a second language and depends upon a variety of communication methods (e.g., sign language and/or written communication). If the hearing loss develops later in life, the individual may depend upon spoken communication and whatever residual hearing is available. However, this is misleading; speechreading is barely effective, and emergency situations may create a noisy environment, making it difficult for hard of hearing individuals to communicate. There are also deaf-blind individuals who may have limited or no vision, adding to the communication barriers in emergency situations.

In the weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI), through its members and the various coalitions in which it participates, uncovered serious lapses in emergency communication systems around the country. In fact, the nation received a failing grade in a December 10, 2004 report, Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Communication Access: Lessons Learned Since 9-11 and Recommendations, prepared by the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN) and the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC).

This Emergency Responders and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community: Taking the First Steps to Disaster Preparedness course, developed by TDI in partnership with four regional centers, is a major initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the Office for Grants and Training (OGT). The course is designed to provide deaf and hard of hearing individuals and emergency responders with the information and skills needed to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergency situations involving people with hearing loss.

Key consumer leaders and emergency responders in the area where training is held will be recruited by the host or sponsor and the instructor. This will promote and foster interaction between the two communities and information sharing among all stakeholders.