Titles II & III of the Americans with Disabilities Act require state and local governments, business and non-profit organizations to communicate effectively with people who have disabilities or access and functional needs (AFN). The goal is to ensure that communication is equally effective for everyone.

During a disaster, communication becomes especially critical. As such, information delivered at press conferences by public officials and broadcasted on television during a disaster needs to be effective, understood, consumable, and actionable by the whole community.

The Cal OES Office of Access and Functional Needs coordinates with Federal, State and Local partners to ensure communication needs are identified and addressed during disasters. This means ensuring that communities understand how to utilize the following communication resources:

  • Sign language interpreters for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • Translation services for persons with limited English;
  • Alternative formats for individuals with blind/low vision).
  •  Plain Text

Early Warning Notification Systems

Early Warning Notification Systems must be accessible and capable of reaching the diverse population of people with disabilities. Review the Emergency Alert System (EAS) with broadcasters in your jurisdiction to ensure accessibility for people who are deaf/hard of hearing, deaf-blind, blind/low vision or who have cognitive disabilities for all emergency messages.

In determining the type of systems to obtain and policies to adopt, consider the following:

  • Government officials need to ensure program accessibility compliance for people who are deaf or hard of hearing via captioning and sign language interpretation.
  • Scrolling text and crawl messages must not block captions.
  • The captioned information is difficult to read or forces the picture to be smaller and eliminates the real-time interpreter from view.
  • Turn captions on for televisions the public uses.
  • Use interpreters during press conferences.
  • Pubic Information Officers (PIOs) need to remind broadcasters and internet video providers about the need for captioning press conferences and television interviews.
  • Remind broadcasters the interpreter must remain in view.
  • PIOs should have bullet points to give to camera crew as they may not understand the importance of the interpreter.
  • Flashing news TV updates must include voiced reports.
  • Emergency scrolling text information, including phone numbers, needs to be read also.

​Websites/Documents/Software Programs

Promoting individual registration of wireless devices & TTYs helps ensure individuals can receive emergency alerts. Today’s expanding technologies give people many communication method options. Reverse 911 calls may miss people who are deaf and hard of hearing. While this works with TTYs, Reverse 911 cannot reach Video Phone numbers even through Video Relay Service and does not provide a text or email version.

People who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, and individuals with speech disabilities are rapidly migrating from traditional land line phones to more advanced telecommunications mobile methods. Have MOUs with wireless providers and have wireless devices and chargers at shelters, LACs and DRCs. Remind the suppliers to ensure equipment is accessible to wheelchair users, TTY users, and people who use various wireless devices.

The FCC introduced Personalized Alerting Network in May 2011. Mobile providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have collaborated with FCC to initiate service prior to April 2012 deadline.

The FCC website has a list of carriers. The customer should ask their mobile provider if their phone has the capability to receive the alerts. If not, a software upgrade may be available.

Disability Access Services

The Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) was designated by the Office of the Governor to serve as the lead state agency in California’s efforts to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in state government. The Disability Access Services (DAS) was established in 1992 to promote disability rights in state government and DOR partnerships in the community.

DAS serves as a resource that provides public information, consultation, training and technical assistance to state and local government, consumers, employers and businesses to help prevent accessibility issues.

DAS also provides physical and communication accessibility expertise for employers, businesses, architects, design professionals, and building officials.

DAS guides public organizations on their responsibilities and the requirements of accessibility for persons with disabilities. However, DAS is not involved in the enforcement of these laws.

DAS provides the following services at little to no cost for state and local government and DOR affiliated partners.


There is a significant amount of new technology being demonstrated and utilized, but it may not always provide effective communication to people with sensory disabilities. Therefore, the burden remains on first responders, volunteers and disability and older adults service systems to communicate with individuals during evacuations.

Consider the following regarding methods of communication:

  • Has input been provided from the deaf/hard of hearing, deaf-blind, blind/low vision, cognitive disabilities and older adult communities into evacuation communication plans?
  • Announcements via public address systems from vehicles and helicopters will not be heard by a large population who are deaf/hard of hearing or deaf-blind.

The following should be clearly addressed:

  • Plans for door-to-door communication and factors that determine when the method should be activated.
  • Types of individual communication tools available to responders.
  • Do you have a siren system in place? What outreach has been done in the community to identify those that may not hear the siren and alternate methods for communication?
  • Is evacuation planning integrated and coordinated with volunteer programs, disability and older adult service systems and other communication plans?

​Press Conferences

Information delivered at press conferences by public officials during a disaster is critical. Specific steps in planning press conferences need to occur to ensure accessible and effective communication.

  • Utilize a sign language interpreter at all press conferences held by public officials and/or if the intent is to deliver vital information. (Creating an MOU for emergency sign language interpreting services is advised.
  • Inform the media as to the purpose of the interpreter to ensure television broadcasters include the sign language interpreter on the screen at all times.
  • Does the broadcast station switch to close-up shots of public officials, field reporters or B-roll footage? (Utilizing the “bubble” may be an option).
  • Real-Time Captioning is provided.
  • Do broadcasters have an MOU in place for the immediate provision of captioning (open/closed) during emergencies?
  • How much time is needed for the captioner to provide services?
  • Any visual information, such as telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, street closures, school closures, shelter locations, etc., that are shown on the screen must also be spoken verbally to viewers to ensure effective communication with people who are blind or low vision.

Disaster Response Interpreter (DRI) Program

The Cal OES Office of Access and Functional Needs, in conjunction with the California Specialized Training Institute, conducts an annual Disaster Response Interpreter Training. This full-day course is intended for professional sign language interpreters who may be called upon to provide interpreting services during/after a disaster. All participants must be fluent in ASL. The training emphasizes basic knowledge of emergency response and recovery activities, and provides practice opportunities for interpreting at press conferences and shelters, including media and press protocols, shelter operations and recovery services, and readiness procedures. Participants undergo a Department of Justice Live Scan and receive a disaster service worker badge upon completion. Some participants may even receive continuing education units.

​Press Releases

The information conveyed in a press release to people with disabilities is very important. In developing the message consider the following:

  • Terminology/Language – When any part of the message is intended for the disability and older adult community state that specifically. Appropriate terminology is “people” first language such as; “if you are a person with a disability or older adults, please ………..(stay inside, leave your air conditioner/heater on, etc.).”
  • Messages – Keep message easy to understand (3rd grade reading level) to enhance communication with individuals who have limited reading ability or cognitive disabilities.
  • Contact Information – Ensure that there are multiple methods offered for effective communication with people with diverse disabilities. For instance, when a voice line is provided to call for information, there must be a teletypewriter (known as TTY) line available with someone responding to the calls. Also, consider utilizing a Q&A e-mail address or ability for live response online.
  • Operators – Those answering the telephone lines should also be trained to understand how the traditional relay service and video relay service work.
  • For further guidance on the use of language and communication, please visit