Pictogram of four disability symbols: the Wheelchair accessible, autism brain, sign language interpretation, and low vision accessible.

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.

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.

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

For detailed guidance on improving disaster-related communications, visit the Communications section of the AFN Library.

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.


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. The responsibility remains on first responders, volunteers, and disability and older adult service systems to communicate with individuals during evacuations.

Consider the following:

  • Has input from the disability and access and functional needs community been integrated into evacuation communication plans?

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.
  • What outreach has been done in the community to integrate the needs of individuals who may not be able to hear sirens and require alternate methods of communication.

​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. Creating an MOU for emergency sign language interpreting services is advised.
  • To help ensure television broadcasters include the sign language interpreter on the screen at all times, Inform the media as to the purpose of the interpreter.
  • Ensure Real-Time Captioning is provided.
  • Any visual information, such as telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, street closures, school closures, shelter locations, etc., that are shown on the screen should be spoken verbally to ensure effective communication.

Disaster Response Interpreter (DRI) Program

The Cal OES Office of Access and Functional Needs, facilitates the Disaster Response Interpreter Program. The DRI Program trains and credentials certified sign language interpreters to provide services before, during, and after disasters. . The training emphasizes emergency response and recovery activities and provides practice opportunities for press conferences, shelters, and other public events. The program stresses shelter operations, recovery services, and readiness procedures. Participants undergo a Department of Justice Live Scan and receive a disaster service worker badge upon completion.

​Press Releases

When developing the messages, consider the following:

  • Use people first terminology such as; “if you are a person with a disability or an older adult, please… shelter-in-place, leave your air conditioner/heater on, etc.”.
  • Messages – Use plain language (Aim for a 4th-grade reading level). For further guidance on the use of language and communication, please visit Plain
  • Ensure there are multiple methods offered for effective communication.