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Workshop to consider needs of deaf, disabled in emergencies

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published September 13. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - When a hurricane, blizzard or other emergency is imminent, sirens blare warnings, municipal messenger systems call residents to warn of road closures or shelters opening.

And when the power goes out, many turn on battery-powered radios to keep informed.

For the region's deaf and hard of hearing residents, none of those options are of help. And if the power is out for an extended period of time, cellphones and pagers also die.

The state Department of Rehabilitative Services, the Norwich Emergency Management Department and the Disabilities Network of Eastern Connecticut will address these issues Saturday in the second of a series of workshops being offered statewide to improve services to deaf, hard of hearing and disabled residents during emergencies.

"You have a tendency to get tunnel vision when you're opening up a shelter," Norwich Emergency Management Director Gene Arters said. "You tend to forget about the needs of deaf and disabled people."

The seminar will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the Kelly Middle School auditorium and will feature a panel discussion with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Southeastern Connecticut American Red Cross chapter, Norwich Emergency Management, and officials from the Disabilities Network of Eastern Connecticut and the state Department of Rehabilitative Services.

A meteorologist from the National Weather Service also will speak. Representatives from Sprint mobile phone company, 911 Dispatch to Millstone and Sorenson - a phone company for the deaf - will explain how to access services in a future emergency disaster.

Sign language interpreters and amplification devices will be available for deaf and hard of hearing attendees.

Barbara Cassin, senior rehabilitation counselor at the Norwich office of the state Department of Rehabilitative Services, said this is the first time the state is hosting such workshops. The first one was held at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford last month, and "a good number" of deaf and hard of hearing people attended.

"It was also a learning experience for the Red Cross, FEMA and the meteorologist who spoke at the workshop as they learned what concerns the community had," Cassin said.

The group produced a DVD developed by the state Department of Public Health using deaf actors and actresses using American Sign Language informing about how to prepare for any emerging disaster. The video is available at www.twitter.com/ctdph or at www.facebook.com/dphct.That workshop was so successful that the group decided to host a second session in Norwich this Saturday and a third in Bridgeport on Sept. 28. Kelly Middle School was chosen because the recently renovated school serves as the emergency shelter for Norwich, Cassin said.

"It is wonderful that in spite of economic restraints, we have been able to pool funds from different resources to help pay for the cost of providing these workshops to the community," Cassin said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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