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Ontario Technoblog

Ontario Emperor technology blog.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Technology Access

From Gallaudet University's Technology Access Program:

The recent disasters caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast have highlighted the importance of access to emergency communications by people with disabilities.

On November 2-3, 2005 the RERC on Telecommunications Access sponsored a state of the science conference on the accessibility of emergency communications to people with disabilities. This timely conference brought together experts in accessibility, mass media, emergency communications, telecommunications, Internet, and government policy to analyze barriers and technological solutions for effective emergency communications with and for people with disabilities.

Attendees included representatives from federal, state, and local government; industry representatives; consumer representatives; and accessibility experts.


Provost Jane K. Fernandes made the following opening remarks:

We face situations as other people have faced them in the United States but the challenge is greater at Gallaudet because our community includes people who are deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind. It is our responsibility to communicate quickly and effectively with them during emergencies.



For example, during 9/11, it was a shock here to those of us on Gallaudet's campus as it was throughout the D.C. area. We had the added responsibility to communicate clearly with students, faculty, and staff about how we were handling the situation and what our response was to that emergency. After 9/11 came the anthrax scare, followed by the sniper attacks in the D.C. area; the Crisis Management Team worked throughout those various crises.



The biggest crisis that some of you do remember was approximately five years ago when two students were murdered here on campus. Six to eight months went by during which we did not know who the perpetrator of those crimes was. The Crisis Management Team had to deal with ongoing fear and assumptions of who might have committed the crimes. We could not call a cancellation of the emergency. We were in a state of emergency that lasted six to eight months until the perpetrator was arrested.



The students were scared. The faculty and staff were scared. Parents were scared. Our response was to use every possible avenue of communication to keep everyone informed. We understand that communication is the key. Even if we don't know everything that’s going on, we communicate as much as know. We communicate the facts about the situation. We want to be clear what we expect people to do, how we can assist them, and how they can assist us through the emergency.



During 9/11, the anthrax scare, the sniper period, and a host of other things that were happening, there were some deaf people who worked in different federal government agencies and who contacted me here and asked if Gallaudet would allow them to come on campus during an emergency, during a crisis. They didn't want to stay within their own government agencies. We were shocked that these workers wanted to come to Gallaudet. We thought that it might be dangerous for them to leave their offices and travel to Gallaudet. We tried to explain that to them but they wanted to come here to Gallaudet University because there would be communication. A lone deaf person in a government agency, or a deaf-blind person, or a hard-of-hearing person would likely receive little or no information and what was actually happening around them would be left to their own imagination. Thus they would prefer to come here to Gallaudet University where communication would happen. Communication is critical for people who are deaf and it probably just as critical for all people. It is key, especially during an emergency.

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