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Preparedness is for everyone

Preparedness is for everyone

Lessons learned with the Learning Independence For Today and Tomorrow (LIFTT) program

By Hollie Stark
Outreach Program Manager

“Can you imagine eight blind people trying to cram themselves under a door frame in an earthquake? We would topple like dominoes!”

That is just a snippet of the often-candid conversation I had last month while visiting the Learning Independence For Today and Tomorrow (LIFTT) program at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver.

Language from its website says, “LIFTT is a 10-month, residential independent living skills training program for blind and low-vision young adults between 18-21 years old. The program is a partnership between the Washington State School for the Blind and the Washington Department of Services for the Blind. Participants live on site from September-June, including weekends, and learn to be responsible for all aspects of their adult life. The objective of the LIFTT program is to provide participants with an opportunity to experience independence in a safe environment before they venture into less protective settings as young adults.”

To that end, I was invited by Steve Lowry, a teacher with LIFTT, to speak to the students about disaster preparedness and how to makes plans for the state’s myriad hazards as a blind or low-vision person.

Hence, the conversation about what NOT to do during an earthquake – do not rush to hide under a door frame.

Learn what TO do and register for the Great Washington ShakeOut earthquake drill here.

One of our goals this year in the Hazards and Outreach Program at the Washington Emergency Management Division is to develop and deliver preparedness messaging that is as simple as possible to start and follow.

And at its core our message is simple.

“Preparedness is as easy as one, two, three,” we say, and we break it down into three digestible steps.

  • Step 1: Know Your Hazards and Reduce Your Risk.
  • Step 2: Make Plans.
  • Step 3: Build Kits.

But does the simplicity of the message hold up to the scrutiny of navigating preparedness as a blind or low-vision person? What if you are not ambulatory? What if you are deaf or English is not your first language?

In preparation for my visit, Lowry was able to have our Be 2 Weeks Ready backpack brochure translated into braille – a great resource for the LIFTT students I thought – but what I learned from them is that over time, the raised dots of braille can break down and become mushy and hard to read.

All the more reason to be vigilant in making sure our digital content is screen reader and alt text friendly.

While there, I asked each student what they wanted to learn and I taught them about our geohazards – earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis – and about some of the extra steps they might need to take when making plans for communication, reunification, and evacuation.

The students wanted to know how to build a kit and be two weeks ready and how they should label their food or give themselves future emergency instructions. Is an audio recording best? Would a braille label hold up to the wear and tear of life? How would they get emergency information?

And from them I learned that they often ask their bus or shuttle drivers for cross streets or landmarks in case they need to relay location information and that they had recently navigated a four-hour power outage during a winter storm with below freezing temperatures that left them cold and hungry for emergency preparedness information.

The experience at LIFTT lasted a total of 90 minutes. Was the information simple? Yes. And also no.

Listening to myself speak to the students, I realized it is still an overwhelming amount of information, particularly for those who don’t move through the world the same way I do. As I conversed with them it reaffirmed the increasing importance to me that we walk the walk when we talk about accessibility. I try hard. I can always do better.

I look forward to next spring when I get to return to LIFTT with a new group of students to share a message of preparedness and learn from and with them.

If you are, or know of a blind or low vision student between the ages of 18-21 and you feel the LIFTT program would be valuable, visit their website to learn more.