Powered by a $1 million grant, Rochester Institute of Technology researchers will continue their work to improve emergency resources and services for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
A year ago, RIT earned a stage one planning grant to identify preliminary service gaps between emergency services and the needs of the DHH population. Rochester has the largest per-capita population of DHH people in the nation. The new grant enables the execution and evaluation of the planning grant.
The RIT team will conduct and evaluate pilot projects focused on public services and resources for emergency situations and the DHH community, officials say.
“In some of my previous research, we noticed that many from the Rochester DHH community were dissatisfied with their interactions with emergency services,” says James Fugate, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Studies at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. “We saw a need.”
By improving communication, the team also hopes to expand education about the deaf and hard of hearing community for emergency managers. Workforce development opportunities for DHH people to become involved with emergency management agencies are also part of the plans.
Led by principal investigator Brian Tomaszewski, professor of geographic information science and technology, and co-PIs Fugate and Qing Miao, associate professor of public policy, the team employs a community-based and interdisciplinary approach. It includes researchers from other disciplines, deaf community groups and emergency management professionals.
Tomaszewski will use his expertise in geographic information systems to develop the nation’s first deaf community hazard-mapping geospatial toolkit, called Deaf Map, RIT says. With this tool, DHH communities will be able to identify, characterize, map, and communicate hazards so public service agencies have a better understanding of the community.
“For example, if the typical warning for an impending tornado is auditory—how can we change that to better serve this population?” says Tomaszewski.
Miao will draw on public policy expertise, with multiple surveys targeting different stakeholder groups. The goal: to better understand challenges faced by the DHH people in responding to emergency situations. For example, how do they access essential public services and resources related to emergency preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery?
“The DHH community is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and other emergencies but often neglected in today’s emergency management practices and scholarly research,” says Miao. “Our goals are not only to gather empirical evidence and generate scientific knowledge on the existing barriers, but also to develop actionable solutions and useful technologies that can have an impact on the wellbeing of the DHH community.”
The nature of the project calls for collaboration with community agencies such as the Monroe County Office of Emergency Management, the Rochester Recreation Club for the Deaf, Rochester Deaf Refugee Advocacy and NTID’s Center on Access Technology.
Jason Rotoli M.D., an emergency physician at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has developed visual-friendly communications booklets. He plans to develop specialized communications booklets for emergency managers.
Fugate’s work centers on local DHH community groups to facilitate training sessions on emergency preparedness, technology use and communications. He will also develop a training program to prepare DHH students to intern with the county’s emergency management office, RIT says.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].