Making Radio Alerts Visually Accessible

If a national disaster strikes, people who are deaf or hard of hearing may not have access to potentially lifesaving information.

Fortunately, that may change soon, thanks to Richard Spiecker of Rochester, N.Y., a senior majoring in business administration with a focus on human resources and marketing. Richard, a marketing intern for NPR, is helping the non-profit, multimedia organization test a system to deliver emergency alerts to deaf or hard of hearing people living in the Gulf Coast states through local public radio stations and the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS®).

This is the first effort to deliver realtime accessibility-targeted emergency messages via radio broadcast texts. For example, during natural disasters like hurricanes, hearing people frequently have access to battery-powered radios to receive emergency information, Richard explained.

NPR, which provides radio programming to 27 million listeners each week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hope to keep deaf and hard of hearing people informed of emergencies in the event of a power outage through a prototype battery-operated device named the Nipper One. The receiver, which updates users 24 hours a day about flash floods, hurricanes, and other major crises, picks up emergency messages transmitted by public radio stations, then alerts users by triggering warning devices such as bed shakers or strobe lights. It is also capable of sending alerts to an Android tablet for display.

Richard did marketing research in the Gulf Coast states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) to identify deaf and hard of hearing volunteers to test the Nipper One, and to instruct them in how to use it. As a result, NPR is sending Nipper Ones to nearly 500 volunteers. In addition, NPR, DHS, and FEMA identified 26 radio stations in the region to participate in the alerting demonstration.

“The volunteers will provide feedback to NPR on the alerting system, and the data will be shared with DHS and FEMA, who will decide if the system should be rolled out nationwide,” Richard said.

Another task Richard was assigned during his internship at NPR was to work on developing frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the emergency alerting demonstration in a simple to read, easy to understand format accessible to everyone, including those for whom English is a second language. He hopes to develop a video version of the FAQs in American Sign Language.

“I learned how to apply the wealth of information learned in class during my NPR internship,” Richard said. For example, he used lessons taught in the Gallaudet Business Department’s “Introduction to Marketing” course to make suggestions on how NPR can improve its marketing strategies. He also critiqued the NPR Distribution Division’s websites and social media platforms.

Richard, who learned about the internship through Gallaudet’s Career Center, said “I wish I had started my internship earlier, because the experience helped me to narrow my interests.” His goal after graduating this May is to enter the marketing and finance field as a financial analyst. “The [intern] experience helped me grow as a person, since [radio] was a new setting, a new environment, with new people, new approaches, and new concepts,” said Richard. “It is hard to find an internship that is fun, stimulating, and friendly— NPR fits them all. This internship also taught me how to be a professional where I can bring my skills to the table, and network with others.”
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