This week is National Deaf Awareness Week. Some of you may know that I have a hearing disability, which has affected my life in ways the written word cannot justify. I give credit to those who don’t let their disability prevent them from accomplishing amazing things, including today’s guest blogger, Joyce Edmiston. Joyce is a remarkable business owner, who happens to be deaf. I was amazed by her story and I hope it offers insight on the importance of social media in crisis.
As a person with hearing loss, I am unable to understand information via live TV and online videos. Because our world is saturated with audio, those of us who are deaf or hearing impaired don’t have the same access to information the way the “hearing” society does. We need closed captioning, text, and access to language via the written word.
A few years ago, my home in Central PA was experiencing some unusual weather patterns. That night, I learned how helpful Twitter can truly be. I was driving my son home from karate and unaware that a tornado warning was in effect. My son and I slowly took our time driving home when we should have found a safe place nearby instead. When we got home, my son turned on the TV and told me about the ticker running across the bottom.
At that point, I logged into Twitter and saw people “tweeting” about it. I mentioned that I was deaf and could not hear the weather broadcasts as they were coming through. The next time we had a inclement weather my friend Gina (@avocadocreation) sent me a tweet letting me know that there were severe weather warnings in my area.
When we had the earthquake here in Central PA, people were again talking about it on Twitter. In fact, there is a YouTube video about the speed of Twitter in the face of natural disasters.
When Hurricane Lee hit, I logged into Twitter immediately. I saw the roads that were closing due to flooding, and I was able to get my husband home safely from Harrisburg just before our secondary roads were closed. By monitoring the tweets of others, I knew which roads were impassible. I also knew how my friends were fairing in these conditions.
Those experiences prompted me to write a detailed post about my experience on Inkling Media’s website.
Interestingly, many emergency responders are now monitoring Twitter in order to better inform the public of events. My post was picked up by Kim Stephens, an independent consultant who blogs at Social Media and Emergency Management.
Based on the sharing of my story, I was contacted by researcher, Stephanie Jo Kent, who spearheaded a test alongside FEMA in an effort to reach the deaf community. With Stephanie’s ingenuity, FEMA Emergency Responders monitored the Deaf Tweet-to-Teach Emergency Responders (#demx) which was created for this test back in November 2011. Stephanie compiled a timeline of how this came about in a Deaf Eye on Emergency Prezi post.
When an emergency is broadcast, the communications department of the FEMA Office of Disability Integration and Coordination watches the results of the test for Deaf Eye on Emergency to monitor how the deaf respond and how the first responders monitor and tweet to the community.
Whether it’s a family, community, or national emergency, Twitter is the most up-to-the-minute resource for accurate information.
If the government realizes the important role of Twitter and social media regarding news, then we should, too.