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September is National Preparedness Month! TIPS for First Responders: Assisting people with Low Vision or Hearing Impairments

Did you know that September is National Preparedness Month? Florida Reading and Vision Technology Inc., serves clients all across the United States and wants to ensure that regardless of region, all are equipped with preparedness tips. Whether you are a resident or First Responder the below tips can help you be better prepared this season.

TIPS for First Responders: Assisting people with Visual or Hearing Impairments

First Responders provide essential services when a disaster impacts a community, including preventing further damage and ensuring steady recovery operations. However, when assisting a visually or hearing impaired individual the following tips should be adhered to:

People with Service Animals

Traditionally, the term “service animal” referred to seeing-eye dogs. However, today there are many other types of service animals.

  • Remember – a service animal is not a pet.
    • Do not touch or give the animal food or treats without the permission of the owner.
    • When a dog is wearing its harness, it is on duty. In the event you are asked to take the dog while assisting the individual, hold the leash and not the harness.
  • Plan to evacuate the animal with the owner. Do not separate them!
    • Service animals are not registered and there is no proof that the animal is a service animal. If the person tells you it is a service animal, treat it as such. However, if the animal is out of control or presents a threat to the individual or others, remove it from the site.
    • A person is not required to give you proof of a disability that requires a service animal. You must accept that he/she has a disability. If you have doubts, wait until you arrive at your destination and address the issue with the supervisors in charge.
    • The animal need not be specially trained as a service animal. People with psychiatric and emotional disabilities may have a companion animal. These are just as important to them as a service animal is to a person with a physical disability – please be understanding and treat the animal as a service animal.
    • A service animal must be in a harness or on a leash, but need not be muzzled.


 People who are Visually Impaired

  • There is a difference between visual impairment and blindness. Some people who are “legally blind” have some sight, while others are totally blind.
  • Announce your presence, speak out, and then enter the area.
  • Speak naturally and directly to the individual.
  • Do not shout.
  • Don’t be afraid to use words like “see,” “look,” or “blind.”
    • State the nature of the emergency and offer them your arm. As you walk, advise them of any obstacles.
  • Offer assistance but let the person explain what help is needed.
  • Do not grab or attempt to guide them without first asking them.
  • Let the person grasp your arm or shoulder lightly for guidance.
    • They may choose to walk slightly behind you to gauge your body’s reactions to obstacles.
  • Be sure to mention stairs, doorways, narrow passages, ramps, etc.
    • When guiding someone to a seat, place the person’s hand on the back of the chair.
    • If leading several individuals with visual impairments, ask them to guide the person behind them.
    • Remember that you’ll need to communicate any written information orally.
    • When you have reached safety, orient the person to the location and ask if any further assistance is needed.
    • If the person has a service animal, don’t pet it unless the person says it is ok to do so. Service animals must be evacuated with the person.
  • Refer to the section on People with Service Animals.


People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • There is a difference between hard of hearing and deaf. People who are hearing impaired vary in the extent of hearing loss they experience. Some are completely deaf, while others can hear almost normally with hearing aids on.
  • Hearing aids do not guarantee that the person can hear and understand speech. They increase volume, not increase clarity.
  • If possible, flick the lights when entering an area or room to get their attention.
  • Establish eye contact with the individual, not with the interpreter, if one is present.
  • Use facial expressions and hand gestures as visual cues.
  • Check to see if you have been understood and repeat if necessary.
  • Offer pencil and paper. Write slowly and let the individual read as you write.
  • Written communication may be especially important if you are unable to understand the person’s speech.
  • Do not allow others to interrupt you while conveying the emergency information.
  • Be patient – the person may have difficulty understanding the urgency of your message.
  • Provide the person with a flashlight to signal their location in the event they are separated from the rescue team. This will facilitate lip-reading or signing in the dark.
  • While written communication should work for many people, others may not understand English well enough in English to understand written instructions. Keep instructions simple, in the present tense and use basic vocabulary.