Accessible Emergency Weather Apps and Emergency Preparedness Tips

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As the United States is in the midst of hurricane season, it is very hard to see what people are going through in Texas, Georgia, and soon to be Florida and not view these disasters with twinges of empathetic pain.

My intention is for this blog post to be a resource of emergency preparedness best practices for people with disabilities, especially those who live in high-risk flood or hurricane areas. Also, we compared the two main emergency weather apps below and found that the FEMA Hurricane app was much more accessible than the Hurricane app by the American Red Cross.

Testing Weather Emergency Apps for Accessibility

Hurricane - American Red Cross

Map view of American Red Cross Hurricane app were I am stuck because the app is not accessibleCaveat: I am testing this app on my iPhone, however, my colleague tested the same app on his Android and the design and overall accessibility was virtually the same.

[For those who are new to iOS or Android accessibility features]:

  • Scrolling through an app means that I swipe left or right to navigate through items on the page.
  • iPhone and Android systems also have an explore by touch feature for people who have low vision. This feature allows you to explore your screen using one finger to hear what icons and buttons are on the screen and can be selected.

While using this app we found that it had some nice content and features, but its core functions were not accessible and we would not recommend that people with disabilities use this app. Below is what we found:

  • Immediately as I opened the application, there is an unlabelled image and a switch button that is not paired with a label.
  • Despite this, I am able to scroll through the page.
  • I am able to scroll and explore to touch my way into adding a family member's contact information to alert them that I am safe.
  • There are accessible preparedness tips and quizzes.
  • The edit "+" box is not labeled and once I tried to add a location in the search box the app takes me to a map that has zero information associated with it.
  • Once the application directed me to a new page with a focused map, I could not scroll down or explore by touch to "next" button on the page to add the location.
  • In the image on the right is where I got stuck in the application, I could not add my location at all.

If I was someone who was blind, I would be able to scroll through most of the options in this app, but I would be very frustrated because I would not be able to add my location. If I was someone who has low vision, I would not be able to touch to explore almost everything in this app. Despite having helpful preparedness information and making it relatively easy to tell my loved ones I am safe, I have to give this application a failing grade because its core functions are inaccessible.

FEMA

Caveat: I am testing this app on my iPhone, however, my colleague tested the same app on his Android and the design and overall accessibility was virtually the same.

Image of FEMA's interface showing an accessible list of alerts

While exploring this app I found at no point was it inaccessible for scrolling or touch to explore, I would definitely recommend this to someone who needed an accessible app. Below is what we found:

  • As I opened this app, I immediately noticed that the main menu is easy to explore by both scrolling and touch to explore
  • There are accessible options to find shelters, apply for assistance online, call FEMA, talk to FEMA in person or call 9-1-1.
  • These disaster resources are easy to navigate list options that are not linked to unlabelled switch buttons (this was not the case for the Red Cross' Hurricane App).
  • This app has preparedness tips, reminders, how to build a kit, and how to find your emergency meeting place.
  • In the weather alerts section, I found that the option to select a location is via a drop-menu for both state and county/city.
  • This dropdown list is much easier to navigate via Voiceover than the RedCross map with unlabelled search functions.
  • The list of alerts on this app is listed as individual points, and it is not designed as a large selectable block of text.
  • When I scroll or explore by touch to each individual alert, it is very easy to maneuver and navigate to the text describing the alert. A+ for accessible core functions!

Best Practices for Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities

  1. Create a Personal Support Network: organize a network of at least three people in your home, school, workplace or any other place you spend a lot of time. These should be people you trust and who can check to see if you need assistance.
  2. Complete a personal assessment. Think about what you will be able to do and what assistance you may need before, during, and after an emergency.
  3. Registering for FEMA Assistance (ASL) - This video is designed to help the hearing impaired to learn about disaster assistance. Get contact information and learn what you need to have ready in order to register by phone or online.
  4. Learn about community response plans, evacuation plans, and local designated emergency shelters in your area.
  5. Choose an app or a local website that has a warning system for a potential disaster (FEMA app or NOAA Weather Radio).
  6. Plan for Your Service Animals: Take your pets with you if you evacuate, service animals are permitted in emergency public shelters.
  7. If you use a cane, keep extras at work, home, school, and volunteer sites to help you get around obstacles. Keep a spare cane in your emergency kit.
  8. If you have low vision, consider installing security lighting in each room to help you safely move around. Label your preparedness supplies so you can identify them quickly and easily.
  9. Electricity-Dependent Equipment: Have a plan for how will you continue to use equipment that runs on electricity, such as dialysis, electrical lifts, etc. Determine whether you have a safe backup power supply and how long will it last.

Call to Action: Submit Your Emergency Tip for People with Disabilities!

I strongly welcome other folks to share their best emergency preparedness practices in the comments below so together we can create a thorough list of resources!

About 

Laura is the Event Manager and Marketing Assistant at Deque Systems. She is passionate about marketing, writing, and creating accessible content for all. Laura graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and English. In her spare time, Laura plays soccer and is a dog mom to her rescue corgi.

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