National Tornado Summit is coming to Oklahoma City
The May 3, 1999, F5 tornado that struck Moore missed Isaac Dixon's house.
But at the time, Dixon's vision was not as impaired as it is now. He got a gut-wrenching look at the devastation in 1999.
On May 20, 2013, Dixon was on a Metro Transit bus headed home when an EF5 struck the duplex where he lived with his wife, Vonda, and son, Khalil, 16. None of the family members was home, which was good because it destroyed the structure, Isaac said. This time though, he didn't see the aftermath.
Isaac's vision has worsened through the years. He is now vision-impaired.
“Really, all I've got is what they call light perception,” he said.
Jan Hatch, program manager of vocational rehabilitation at the state Rehabilitation Services Department, and Jay Doudna, a studio technician and program coordinator for Oklahoma's Talking Information Service, are among those scheduled to speak during the National Tornado Summit set for Feb. 10-11 in Oklahoma City. Their topic will be disaster communication planning for people with disabilities.
The Oklahoman recently asked Dixon, who works in production at NewView Oklahoma, a nonprofit that employs the visually impaired, and Hope Crumley, programs manager for services to the deaf and hard of hearing for the Rehabilitation Services Department, about this subject as well.
Hatch said statistics indicate that more than 575,000 Oklahomans have disabilities.
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Dixon, 61, said, “I don't see shadows but I can see a light from a window or see a light a little bit above. That's about all I've got.”
He was asked, “What if you'd been home by yourself on May 20, 2013?”
Dixon said he listens to the television and closely monitors the weather. Dixon would have taken his precautions, which would have been to go to the bathroom in the center of the duplex, he said.
“But the way they explained it to me, because this was an EF5, I might not have made it through or I would have been hurt because it was just bad,” Dixon said.
Getting the information
Dixon's family now lives in a house near a longtime friend in Oklahoma City. He said that if he would happen to be home by himself during severe weather now, the friend would likely come get him. But Dixon also has an interior closet he would seek shelter in, if needed. And he said that in addition to television, he and his family have a weather radio that will alert them during severe weather.
While Dixon has vision impairment, weather information issues may vary for those with other disabilities.
Crumley said there are several ways that Oklahomans with hearing loss receive information regarding severe weather.
Some of the strategies include: Text alerts through the different news channels and/or the National Weather Service; weather radios specifically for people with hearing loss and reading of captioned news reports. Texts, emails and video phone calls from other community members also help to inform other members who may not be as aware, she said.
Crumley said one man with hearing loss said that last May he needed more details about location in the alerts he received, because he ended up driving through Moore at the time the tornado was moving through. He was safe, but shared his concern with Crumley.
Crumley said another issue is the language used.
“For deaf folks, English is a second language,” she said. “Often times, weather forecasts use technical jargon, which can be difficult, even if your first language is English. For those that ASL is their first language, the complicated atmospheric concepts and vocabulary creates its own barrier, particularly when it is captioned.”
Crumley said the text alerts have helped to create equal access to weather bulletins.
“Captioning happens most of the time on the news stations, and the weather radios can be specified for a county or counties instead of statewide,” she said.
Doudna said that in recent years there have been improvements in the ways that blind or visually impaired persons receive important weather alerts and information.
“The fact that television weather coverage is simulcast on both AM and FM radios is an improvement for everyone,” he said. “We find that the weather reporters seem to be aware of this and are usually more descriptive than they might be if they are only on TV.
“Another improvement has been the apps for smartphones. Many phones are now accessible for blind or visually impaired persons to use. Communication in general has improved. Blind and visually impaired persons also get information from neighbors and friends.”
In terms of challenges, Hatch said some individuals may have difficulty processing the information or may not have the ability to move to a safe location without assistance.
“In my opinion, weather radio has been great because it can be set to only alert the user when the threat is imminent and it provides instructions on what to do to protect yourself,” Hatch said. “The technology that the TV stations use such as mapping the location of the storm with streets is also useful.
“The portability of smartphones means that you can get information almost anywhere. Warnings don't always appear on TV if you are watching a nonlocal station on cable/satellite and this can be a problem.”
Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office, said “It's so important for everyone, including those with disabilities, to have as many different sources of weather information as you possibly can in Oklahoma.”
“And being safe in spring storms also means you have to do some advance planning and think about how you'll receive those lifesaving warnings and how you'll get to a safe place,” Smith said.
When asked what the general public may not understand about this topic, Hatch noted that someone who is in a wheelchair is going to have a difficult time accessing most underground shelters. Also, an individual with cognitive issues may not appreciate the gravity of the situation or may be too frightened to take appropriate action. And she said anyone, not just those with disabilities, who takes medications should keep those with them in the event of an emergency.
Hatch added that the issue of how those with some disability receive weather information is one that more people should give thought to.
“If you live long enough, you are almost certain to develop a disability,” Hatch said. “We don't think about needing reading glasses or having to use a cane as a disability, but a disability can be anything that interferes with daily living activities.”