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Arizona’s ERIC Program Works to Improve Access to Emergency Information

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Emergency Response Interpreters Credentialing (ERIC) program interpreter, Beth Kovatch, works with the Operations Section of the Southwest Incident Management Team 1 on the Tinder Fire to record an accessible video updating the public on the the status of the wildfire.

Vicki Bond is not surprised at how hot, but at how cold the temperatures can get out on a wildfire. “I’ve worked on responses to more wildfires in freezing temperatures than in extreme heat,” she says.

Coincidentally, making sure people aren’t left out in the cold in an emergency is why she has so much experience with the weather.

Bond works for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) as a licensed American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and deployment coordinator for the Emergency Response Interpreters Credentialing (ERIC) program. She helps prepare licensed ASL interpreters and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) captioners to deploy for emergencies throughout the state.

ERIC interpreters and captioners work alongside communicators to interpret and transcribe information presented at community meetings and media briefings, on websites and social media, and in evacuation shelters for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“The goal of the ERIC program,” said Bond, “is to ensure deaf and hard of hearing community members have access to critical information during emergencies and disasters in the State of Arizona.”

People in Arizona are at risk from a variety of hazards, including extreme heat, floods, and wildfire. More than 1,500 wildfires occur in Arizona each year.

Trial by Fire

Group photo of participants in the Emergency Response Interpreters Credentialing Program
The ERIC team is made up of American Sign Language Interpreters, Certified Deaf Interpreters, and Communication Access Real-time Translation captioners.

The pilot of the ERIC program was a literal trial by fire. In 2017, ERIC interpreters and CART providers deployed in response to one flood and nine wildfires, where long hours, limited supplies, and sleeping in tents are the rule, not the exception.

The ERIC staff of five captioners, 15 interpreters, and three certified deaf interpreters deployed to two major fires this season–the Tinder Fire and the Rattlesnake Fire in April—and, most recently, supported Coconino County’s response to flooding east of the City of Flagstaff.

ERIC staff have not worked with a public health department on an exercise or real-life emergency, such as a Point of Distribution (or POD) drill or activation as of yet, but Bond anticipates “many more” deployments with the recent enactment of State of Arizona Senate Bill 1296, which is meant to improve the accessbility of emergency communication.

Bond hopes the early success of the ERIC progam will help highlight the need for ASL translators and CART captioners on all emergencies.

Know Your Community

It is not a matter of if you will need an interpreter and captioner, but when you will need them. In Arizona, an estimated 1.1 million people are hard of hearing, and over 20,000 people are culturally deaf and use ASL as their primary language.

Public health and emergency management agencies can use tools like Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) surveys to assess local health and communication needs, and collect data that can help emergency planners know when to request resources like interpreters and captioners. The earlier the better in most cases.

Think Accessibility

In today’s “digital first” world, where half of visitors to CDC.gov come on mobile devices first, it is important to think about accessibility throughout the process of creating content, from conceptualization to publication.

Small print, videos without captions, and the use of long and technical language in printed materials and on websites are barriers to communication and possible violations of federal and state laws. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and other laws like it help protect people who have disabilities that affect their ability to hear, speak, read, write, and understand information.

Here are 5 ways to create web and social media content that is useful, usable, and accessible:

  1. Add alternate text (or AltText) to images.
  2. Caption social media video and web video.
  3. Provide transcripts for videos and podcasts, and interpreters for livestreams.
  4. Improve the readability of print materials with large text.
  5. Write in plain language to increase understanding of your message.

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