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Effective Communications for People with Disabilities: Before, During, and After Emergencies

National Council on Disability

The National Council on Disability (NCD) plays a critical role in promoting successful disability policies regarding emergency management through the publication of information and policy recommendations. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented changes to the emergency alert requirements that paralleled NCD’s recommendations in the 2005 report Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning.

NCD was given responsibilities in the 2006 Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act. As part of these responsibilities, NCD participated in two events that illustrated the need to place additional emphasis on effective communication. In September 2011, NCD held an all-day meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) regional disability integration specialists, at which they discussed the current state of emergency management as well as barriers and facilitators to the inclusion of people with disabilities. Also in September 2011, NCD cosponsored FEMA’s Getting Real II conference, which highlighted promising practices in inclusive emergency management. During both meetings, critical issues related to effective communication were raised.

This report identifies barriers, facilitators, and successful practices to providing effective emergency-related communications. The report examines the current state of affairs concerning the accessibility of emergency-related communications; reviews the enforcement of disability laws and regulations as they pertain to effective communications before, during, and after emergencies. Information on the experiences and perceptions of people with disabilities as they relate to emergency-related communications is also provided. Based on the findings of the report, NCD has put forth a series of recommendations for policy makers, federal partners, and emergency managers.