September 22, 2013

Rachel Strella

Twitter in Crisis: This Deaf Woman’s “Best Friend”

Twitter for the DeafThis 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.

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6 comments on “Twitter in Crisis: This Deaf Woman’s “Best Friend””

  1. Hi Joyce, and nice to "meet" you, Rachel Strella!

    FEMA did indeed monitor the results of the November 2011 test, but I cannot tell you how much attention was paid to the independent research that I did.

    I was frustrated that the message FEMA was giving to the Deaf community was to ignore the test, because FEMA already knew it would fail in terms of accessibility. My goal was to draw more attention to the range of strategies available for sharing emergency warning information, especially including the use of live interpreters -- including Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs).

    Of course it makes sense that on the large scale, FEMA wants a system that will communicate automatically to as many people as possible. What I'm talking about is the local application, you could think of it like the last mile or the last link in the chain from federal or state government to the town where you live or work, even to the organizations where people work and shop and go to take care of things.

    THAT is where we need robust solutions that are familiar to everyone - the hearing public as well as the Deaf community. People who provide emergency response should be comfortable communicating with interpreters, and even the general public should have a clue about this special kind of intercultural communication.

    The research I did found a worrisome result. The idea of using #demx as a Twitter hashtag to alert the Deaf community about a hazardous situation was popular among emergency managers who use social media..... thanks to Joyce and others, the idea of using #demx also spread to Deaf people already using Twitter. BUT . . . the Deaf people on Twitter, and the Emergency Managers on Twitter did not establish any connection with each other. Instead, Deaf people told Deaf people about using #demx, and hearing people told hearing people about using #demx.

    I wrote about this finding more extensively at Emergency Warning and Response at the edge of technology and culture. The problem of insularity is a big one. As long as everyone only talks to the people they are comfortable talking with, we will be hard pressed to develop solutions that actually reach everyone.

    This is very timely blog-entry, coming right after the 1,000 year rain in Colorado, the Hong Kong megastorm, and the beginning of hurricane season for the US South and East coasts. Please spread the use of #demx as a way to catch the Deaf Eye, and say DEAF EMERGENCY X is happening now!

    best regards,

  2. Joyce is one of my ReikiSpace Practitioners. She is an Amazing woman, and we hope to work together to allow ReikiSpace to be deaf-friendly, so we can begin teaching Reiki in an accessible way.

    1. Rickie, it is an honor and a privilege to be taught and mentored by you at ReikiSpace and Learning Place. I appreciate how you work with me and my communication needs. I'm excited that we have been putting plans in place to be fully accessible to share and teach Reiki to the Deaf and hard of hearing in our Harrisburg, PA community. We are still looking for fluent ASL signers to join us at Reiki Space. Rickie has a big screen coming so we can have captions and text available for our workshops.

      Blessings to you, Rickie,


  3. Thanks for this, Joyce! And yes, Social Media, especially in emergency management, shows that the game has changed significantly from the days of tornado sirens and air-raid horns.

    I used to work at FEMA's Office of Disability Integration and Coordination so I have some direct experience to add. I have no current affiliation with FEMA or any of its offices.

    I do want counter some points made in Steph's otherwise excellent comment. FEMA paid a great deal of attention to the results generated during the November 2011 EAS test (In fact, I appeared in a video with Administrator Craig Fugate that Joyce also linked to : discussing the test.) We weren't necessarily telling people to ignore the test, but rather, we wanted people to understand that it was a test and not to be alarmed.

    We did receive a great deal of feedback, including pictures of what it looked like on different viewers screens. In one station, the white text of the EAS alert was completely lost when the station had a white backdrop explaining it was just a test. Finally, I can tell you I passed along the results of the social media survey that Steph and Joyce did to the applicable units in FEMA.

    But more importantly, this raises an interesting conflict: At FEMA, they're stressing that emergency planning, alerting, and notification must be completely inclusive. It cannot segregate/separate one part of the community from another just because. It has to be inclusive across the board. Yet, #DEMX represents a diversion from this philosophy because it implies that D/HH should be part of a separate system and I disagree with it.

    1. I agree, Neil, we need to be totally inclusive! This is an issue that is still being sorted and worked on, such as having BOTH captions AND ASL available, besides the audio, for example.

      I think the Emergency Responders Social Media team who gave us that hash tag wanted to use it specifically to track the Deaf community who were joining in the test and to see if "Deaf Eye" on emergency would spread the word of what was going on. I believe they worked with several teams across the US I. Twitter to devise the workings of this test.

      Bottom line, by my perspective, it DID include everyone, the test was a means of letting Deaf Community know that Social Media is a viable source to turn to in emergency events, and we all helped in strengthening out National Emergency Alert System, which is I win all around. While we still have areas of improvement, this certainly helped us learn what more needs to be done.

      Though you are no longer with FEMA, I do see you working with getting the word out about Emergency Preparedness, such as the Lunch to Learn event for Hearing Loss Association of America, Pennsylvania. That was an excellent presentation you gave!

      Thank you for clarifying a few points and joining the conversation, Neil.

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