Perspective of the blind and visually impaired during an emergency

Post by: Kim Stephens with excerpts from Ben Proctor

Preston train stationBen Proctor, a UK blogger that writes about emergency management as well as emerging technology, recently posted about how changing public transportation routes during a crisis can be unsettling for the visually impaired. He used their recent localized flooding event, and the ensuing transportation disruptions, as an example of how this community is impacted. He writes:

The experience of blind and VI people was distinctive. How do you locate station staff on a packed and confused railway platform if you can’t see them? How worrying is it to board a rail-replacement bus traveling an unfamiliar route when you have to rely on others telling you where you are?

In a telling statement, that most of us are also guilty of, he says: “These are not issues I had really considered and I don’t have simple tasks that would help to address the [them]…” He does, however, offer a few suggestions:

‘It does make me consider several issues though:

    • people are infinitely varied, better emergency plans [need to] plan for humans with a wide variety of needs and abilities
    • listening to people is amazingly valuable, given how easy it is now to collect direct testimony from people affected by emergencies it is surprising that we don’t do more of it
    • listening to the perspectives of people with disabilities is the best way of understanding the needs of people with disabilities as Lisa Lipscombe found when she sat down with her local disability forum

And it makes me think that effective use of digital tech might remove some of these barriers. Why try to fight your way around stations when you could just tweet or text customer services and get your answer there.”

I think the exact same observations could be made about the state of our emergency planning here in the US. We need to not only listen to concerns and needs of individuals that have access and functional needs, but include them in finding tangible solutions that work well for them. I believe we have a long way to go.

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