Student advocates for emergency alert system for deaf

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Most of us know what a tornado siren or a fire alarm sounds like, but for someone who’s deaf, they have no idea. They have to rely on things like flashing lights or someone signaling them where to go.

That concern is what inspired one high-schooler to look into it. She’s hoping, by asking questions, she’ll bring about some change.

We called the Champaign School District to get that information several times and have also been asking through emails. We haven’t been able to get an answer about what the protocol is. But this student isn’t just worried about schools. She says this is a concern everywhere.

In an emergency, most of us know time is of the essence. That’s why we run drills over and over, but what do you do if you don’t even know what the emergency is? That’s the scenario Centennial junior Kaitlyn Lassy says many of her deaf friends encountered last week. When a tornado alarm sounded, Lassy says those friends felt lost.

“I could hear the announcements and the bells but I realize that there’s nothing for someone’s who’s deaf to know what’s going on,” said Lassy. “We made the school wheelchair accessible, but not deaf accessible.”

Susan Dramin-Wiess teaches American Sign Language at the University of Illinois. She feels federal regulations should be put in place to keep people who are deaf or hard-of hearing in the loop.

“They have what’s called an amber alert, what’s on the phone, and that lets people know whenever there’s a missing child, or license plate people should be looking out for, they should have something like that for the tornado for the deaf.” Dramin-Wiess believes schools aren’t the only places that should notify people.

“I think all public places should have it, especially a hospital. An airport, definitely,” said Dramin-Weiss.

Dramin-Weiss says she did order some smoke alarms 20 years ago that also have weather alerts. But she said they were too complicated, and most members of the deaf community gave up on them.

The National Weather Service has options for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. There are a lot of off-the-shelf weather alarms that have flashing lights or vibrating features. Many also have text readouts. More information on those options can be found here.

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