Sirens echoes through the air, someone was shouting warnings through the horn loudspeakers, local residents screaming for help, people stampeded in a panic throughout the streets as they frantically looking for safe areas, the city became overwhelmed with many people – police officers, firefighters, EMTs & paramedics alike are helping the community.
During in a wake of natural disasters and crises, the Hearing communities can respond quickly and sometimes have chances to protect themselves. They can hear the warnings, alarms, or even screams about the upcoming disasters. In many countries, media plays significant role in providing for the public’s needs and safety. However, not all of them have the opportunities to do so:
the Deaf communities.
Imagine the great calamity occurred but do not have the accessibility to the information? Imagine if the alarm sounds though the building because the fire spreads like a wildfire at night and Deaf people slept through it because they didn’t hear the alarm since there was no flashing light warnings? Imagine that daunting feeling of confusion and anxieties building up in your body while your mind is trying to process of what just happened? Every racing thoughts that runs in your mind becomes overwhelming and possibly your feet become planted to the ground:
“What’s going on?”
“Where do I go?”
“What do I do?”
The feeling of the unknown instilled greater fear and uncertainty. The reality is
Deaf communities are often left behind
and unable to quickly ingest what’s going on due to unable to hear warnings and communication barriers. For example, on March 11, 2011, The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred near Tohoku region, which where the tsunami washed away their homes. It was found that 14 Deaf people died from this monstrous wave because they were unable to hear the emergency sirens that could have given them advance warnings that something disastrous was about to happen. In recent event that had occurred, Nepal experienced a severe tragedy with the magnitude of 7.8 that left about 6,000 people dead and still counting. Many Deaf Nepali people fell behind the news and missed the opportunity to get food and supplies due to not hearing the announcements or have no other accessibility. Thankfully, Deaf Emergency INC is currently responding to help Deaf communities in Nepal.
The likelihood of getting in risk with the disasters may be high. Through many mass media, sometimes there are no live closed captioning nor live interpreter, therefore it is common that Deaf people missed prior warnings. Most particularly in remote areas where there is no accessibility to social media, electronics, or even a community where they aren’t Deaf-friendly or no Deaf-awareness whatsoever.
It’s only natural that the Hearing communities have their own families to protect; therefore, they often forget about others who are in need to be informed.
What can you do when you encounter Deaf people including Deaf children during catastrophe:
- Don’t be afraid to approach
Many people are afraid to approach Deaf people because of not knowing what to do or how to communicate with them. In many countries, Deaf people are considered to be handicapped, disabled or even mentally challenged. These stereotypes need to be corrected. Believe me, in these type of crisis situations, Deaf people would want to be approached and be informed. They will appreciate and remember your kindness.
- Do inform them what’s going on
If there is an early warning, do inform them. You can write it down and explain what is happening. If there’s no prior warning, tell them that you will explain soon as possible when arriving at the safe zone. Give them updates when new information arise. If you are in a safe area such as community center, day care, etc, and if a TV is provided, then try your best to find a way to put closed captions on. Although it is not quite available everywhere, news may provide an interpreter on TV. It is vital for everyone to be well-informed and to be kept up to date regardless through media or direct communication.
- Ask them if they want to follow you
Because of not being able to hear the public verbal announcement, they aren’t too sure where to go. You can tap on their shoulder to get their attention and they will be willing to cooperate because they will want to know what’s going on. They may find their way, but they still can miss couple of important messages. Whether if it is transporting to other areas and how to find that transportation, or food and supplies availability in certain areas.
- Seek medical attention
lf they are in need of medical attention, it is important to inform Emergency Response Team that the person they are treating are Deaf so that way they can find an convenient way to communicate with them. This is very crucial so they can find out how badly they are in pain as well as finding out their medical history, allergies, etc.
- Be Patient
During the time of crisis, it is normal for everyone to feel panic and worried. Having patience is essential when trying to communicate with Deaf people; Deaf people are already behind enough so they already have the patience to acquire the updates. Therefore, it will be appreciated if you can give patience in return.
- Don’t pity them
After any kind of crisis, it is a natural response for anyone to feel bad for Deaf people. However, when it comes to Deaf people, it is important to share empathy, not sympathy. Please understand the difference because it is often that Deaf people get sympathy for their “Deafness.” Do not apologize by saying, “I’m sorry that you can’t hear the news,” or telling them that you wish they could hear. The last thing we need is sympathy because we all share the same crisis together.
- Don’t attempt to speak slower, speak louder and over-enunciate
It’s no surprise that many Hearing people attempt to speak slower, speak louder and/or over-enunciate their words. They often think that it will help; when in reality, it actually doesn’t. How would these techniques suddenly help them to hear?
- Be aware of their communication needs
Deaf people rely on any kind of communications whether if it is with sign language, writing, gestures, observing facial expressions. lip reading, speaking or even basic alphabetical finger spelling (especially for those who are Deaf-Blind). If you find yourself in a dark place, then use what’s availability of the light to communicate because Deaf really rely visually.
- If possible, ask them if they want to stay with you until they able to locate their families and friends
If Deaf people lost their families and friends and are trying to contact their loved ones, it would be appreciated if you can help out locating their loved ones as well – that is if they asked for your help. However, if you happen to come across Deaf children, it is imperative that you keep these Deaf children close with you. Depending on the area and access to technology, Deaf people can text or videophone their loved ones. Otherwise, if it is in remote area or loss of technology/resources for the Deaf, Deaf people sometimes are unable to make calls.
These are different ways to help the Deaf communities during crisis; Don’t be afraid to approach them, or even if they approach you. During the crisis, this is a time for everyone else to get together and help each other out.
On an important note, we want to emphasize that not all Deaf people are the same. Each and every Deaf person is different in their own way. Some do not want your assistance while others may want to. So don’t take it personal if this occurred to you.
Additionally, we, Deaf people, are not helpless people. We are able to take care of ourselves, but the problem is the LACK of accessibility to different information. Sometimes there is auditory warnings instead of flashing lights to warn people. Sometimes there is no close captioning for live news. Sometimes people only announce verbally where is the safe zone and where the food and supplies are provided. As you can see, the list goes on and on about lack of accessibility for Deaf people. We strongly believe that Deaf people should have more accessibility as the Hearing people.
Do keep in mind that we, Deaf people, do not like pity. Do not view us as handicapped, disabled or mentally challenged, because although we can’t hear, we can do anything like the Hearing communities. The only thing that makes us different is hearing.
*featured photo: All Right Reserved to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
ASL version is provided along with closed captions down below: