SKYWARN for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: An Example of Participation in Local Advocacy and Focus Groups to Provide Specialized Services to Underserved Communities

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Monday, 3 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Trevor Boucher, NOAA/NWSFO, Old Hickory, TN; and J. Schuller, S. Fortin, and K. Schuler

Handout (6.7 MB)

According to a study by Gallaudet University in 2005, roughly four out of every 1000 people are “functionally deaf,” meaning they cannot hear normal conversations. Additionally, 14% of the population of the United States suffers from some kind of hearing impairment. That means nearly 43 million people suffer from some sort of hearing loss and may struggle to provide or receive severe weather information.

The needs of the deaf and hard of hearing are not always apparent to the hearing communities because how commonplace it is to rely on auditory signals such as phone ringers, car alarms, storms sirens, and others. It is difficult to imagine how our lives would be affected by no longer having these signals to rely upon. A local deaf advocacy and community outreach group called Emergency Alert and Response Services (EARS) actively invited multiple city officials in the Nashville area, including the NWS, to participate on this committee in hopes to discover ways to provide alert services for the deaf. Through this partnership, the needs of the deaf became apparent, and brainstorming ensued on how to provide services for this community.

As a direct result of this partnership, NWSFOs Nashville and Huntsville successfully hosted fully accessible SKYWARN Spotter Training workshops for the deaf and hard of hearing in 2012. The events communicated spotter principles through images and American Sign Language. Historically, the SKYWARN Storm Spotting Program has promoted auditory-reliant media to both receive and report information; the primary means of reporting severe weather has been over the telephone. With the advent of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and websites such as E-Spotter, the NWS now provides means of information reporting and dissemination that the deaf and hard of hearing can utilize.

This enables the deaf and hard of hearing community to participate in the SKYWARN program with very little cost or added workload for the NWS. This initiative could easily be adopted nationwide, allowing an entirely new demographic to become Weather-Ready across the United States.