There’s been nice progress, but plenty of work yet to do, seemed to be the theme of a recent roundtable discussion on emerging technologies to alert people with access and functional needs. Marcie Roth, Director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (ODIC) was downright enthusiastic. She said, "I am excited about our industry partners and that they have been taking a good hard look at what it will take to make this work for everyone. It shows that they see it as the opportunity it really is.”
Several vendors showed up for the event, sponsored by ODIC and the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program office. The industry reps showed a hodgepodge of devices and approaches they’ve been designing to work within the IPAWS system for facilitating public alerts.
A company called Signtel showed systems for alerts in simultaneous voice, text, lip reading and sign language that use electronic billboards, large monitors, laptops, and mobile devices. They pointed out that during a typical Emergency Alert System (EAS) activation, people are generally attentive and responsive. However, they said, when a hearing challenged person sees the activity surrounding an EAS without knowing what it was, confusion and fear can set in.
AlertUS Technologies showed their system being used for a variety of visual notification methods such as alerting beacons, digital signage, monitors, and special devices. They talked about their deployment at Gallaudet University, the DC-based school focused on higher education for deaf and hard of hearing students.
DeafLink can deliver alerts in American Sign Language (ASL) and Braille readers. The company’s CEO Kay Chiodo said they’ve learned through practical experience that accessible technology can work for alerting, preparedness education and outreach.
Serene Innovations showed a wireless notification solution that can use shakers, door-knockers, flashers, sound detection systems, and loud speakers to get attention.
And MobiLaps showed a technology that can use web browsers for alerts.
And, all of these vendors are working to adapt their solutions so they can automatically receive and relay IPAWS alerts.
These were all impressive technologies, and I’m sure there are others available that could come into the IPAWS fold. However, there are challenges. First, awareness will need to be created to make sure people who can benefit from these technologies know about them. Public safety will hopefully pay attention so they can help spread the word, and look for opportunities to use these types of accessibility devices in their communities. Then, of course, comes the question of cost. Will these devices be too expensive? Are there programs that could make them more available?
Here’s an interesting, and telling, sidebar: As these high-tech, information enabled people piled into the room, including several hard-of-hearing or deaf people, it became clear that the ASL interpreters were missing. They had been sent to the wrong room. As we waited, mostly silently, for a long fifteen minutes for them to show up, Marcie Roth pointed out that this was a good example of what happens when everyone doesn’t have equal access to information they can understand.
All the best,