Op-Ed: What should airlines do to ensure that people who are deaf/hard of hearing understand what’s going on in a real-life emergency?

In the most unusual situation several days ago, I was approached by a flight attendant with the following question written on a napkin, “In the event of an emergency, how should we communicate with you?” That question, really, threw me off. Unexpectedly. I looked at her. Back at the napkin. And then asked for a pen. I wrote back, “Talk to us using in your normal voice and we’ll be able to understand reading your lips”. She looked at my answer and gave me the thumbs up. But something irked me. In the back of my mind, I thought to myself, should of I written something else?

At first, her gestures were awkward. I knew she had zero training in ASL. Secondly, in the event of an emergency, having a flight attendant calmly come over and explain to us there’s an emergency happening might not actually happen in a calm manner in the first place. Thirdly, in the case of an actual emergency, most of the passengers would be most likely be refrained from leaving their seats while the captain or the flight attendants are communicating from the intercom.

I felt like I was caught in a Catch-22 situation.

Maybe I should of wrote, “Can you communicate using ASL?”

But then, that would of throw her off and I would of gotten the obvious answer.

No.

Maybe I should of wrote, “Can you text me while in a real-life emergency?”

All hands down I would bet that she would of laughed at my joke. But then would of responded with, “I’m sorry, the FAA doesn’t allow us to use phones while undergoing a real-life emergency”.

Dang.

Maybe I should of wrote, “Is there a button that allows for pre-arranged emergency messages that can be displayed on all TV screens during the case of a real-life emergency?”

Umm. Not right now. But maybe there should be?

Think about it. 300 terrified people on a airplane in a real-life emergency. There will be yelling, crying, fear, turbulence, the captain on the intercom, the intercom not working anymore, and who knows what else that could go wrong in an emergency.

Virgin America was going in the right direction when they allowed communication between passengers within the in-flight entertainment center.

In a possible world with Virgin America in-flight entertainment center, the flight attendants could of used that system to communicate with me, yet, we are still not there yet. JetBlue, the airline that I flew recently, has an in-flight entertainment center in front of every seat, but their system is old and had limited access. In fact, when I flew with them, Direct TV didn’t even work at all. Only the volume and brightness on the remote worked.

Totally almost missed out on watching USA vs Jamaica game if it wasn’t for the free FlyFi.com, yet, that too had extremely limited communication capabilities to communicate with the flight attendants.

Thus, the question remains, what really is the best way to communicate to people who are deaf/hard of hearing understand what’s going on in a real-life emergency?

I personally believe that an FAA-mandated requirement in a system where the flight attendants and captain can push a button on a touch-screen with pre-arranged emergency messages that can be displayed on all TV screens in case of a real-life emergency. 

I also highly suggest that the FAA work with VRS companies such as Convo Relay and implement their Announce feature within all US airline companies.

You got a better idea? I would love to hear from you! Leave comments!

Got a complaint? Know and understand the Air Carrier Access Act!


This opinion is mine and mine alone. Follow me at thomsenyoung.com. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and I can hardly believe myself, Instagram as well! 

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