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Accessible Emergency Communications in Minnesota

Including ASL interpretation & real-time captioning

3/25/2019 9:33:02 AM

ASL version

If you are DeafBlind or prefer to watch the video in a slow-paced, high contrast format, watch the DeafBlind friendly ASL version instead.

English version

During the 2017 hurricane season, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria blew in leaving behind a trail of destruction from August to October. We also watched the news coverage that included ASL interpreters and captioning onscreen, some successfully, some not.

During this time, many community advocates, including MNCDHH”s board member Lloyd Ballinger, contacted MNCDHH and asked if the State of Minnesota plans to have ASL interpreters, including Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs), and live captioning onscreen if there is an emergency. MNCDHH agreed with community advocates. This is an important issue and needs to be addressed.

Anne Sittner Anderson, communications coordinator at MNCDHH, researched the emergency communications protocols in other states. In September 2017, she used the information to create a special memo for the Office of Governor Mark Dayton titled, “Emergency Management Communications that are Inclusive to People Who are Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing.” In this memo, she provided the following recommendations along with resources to federal law and the policy in other states:

  1. Provide concurrent methods of communicating emergency information in spoken English with live-captioning and American Sign Language (ASL). 
  2. Include a team of certified and qualified ASL interpreters with a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) as a member of the interpreting team. 
  3. Provide real-time captioning during disasters. 
  4. Budget to include accessibility during emergencies. 
  5. Provide an auditory description of any graphics, so that visual information is inclusive to listeners who are blind, low vision, or deafblind.

The Governor’s Office agreed that this is an important issue. People who are deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing must have equitable communication access to emergency information. They connected us with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) to discuss solutions.

MNCDHH and DPS had already been working together on the statewide Text-to-911 rollout along with the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division (DHHSD) so MNCDHH was happy to work with DPS on another project.

In December 2017, MNCDHH and DPS met, partially to review the Text-to-911 rollout, but also to talk about accessible emergency communications.

DPS suggested that they insert language into the Minnesota Emergency Operations Plan to include sign language interpreters and real-time captioning during emergencies. MNCDHH agreed that this was a great idea.

The process to update the plan was complicated and took almost a year but as of October 2018, the language is in! The language is as follows:

  • Arrange to provide American Sign Language interpretation and captioning services for news conferences, briefings, and other media activities. 
  • Arrange for sign language interpretation for the Governor and other senior officials when they travel to disaster sites or otherwise address the citizens of Minnesota, following a disaster.

This plan is updated on an annual basis and will continue on no matter which governor is in office.

Additional information

  • This new addition to the emergency communications process comes with a learning curve. Notably, the local TV news needs to become used to filming interpreters onscreen next to the person speaking. For example, on March 15, 2019, WCCO4 only included the interpreter's arm onscreen in "Gov. Walz, Sen. Klobuchar Get Update on Spring Flood Preps." Please contact WCCO4 and remind them that receiving the information in American Sign Language (ASL) is important to Minnesotans who use ASL as a primary language. You can contact WCCO4 using their online form, Attention To "WCCO Programming." You can also reach out to other main channels (KARE, KMSP, and KSTP) and share the same message.
  • Anne Sittner Anderson at MNCDHH will continue to monitor and work on this topic, ensuring that all deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing Minnesotans have equitable communication access during emergencies. If you would like to reach her, email
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