Tornado warning communication needs among the Blind/Low-vision community (212)

Kathleen Sherman-Morris, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS

Taylor Pechacek, Mississippi State University



Over 7 million people in the United States are visually impaired or blind . Little research has been conducted to understand how the Blind or those with low vision receive or act upon tornado warning information. This is especially important in the Southeast due to its already high levels of vulnerability to the tornado hazard. To address the gaps in our understanding of this potentially vulnerable population, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 residents of Mississippi and Alabama who are legally blind. The interviews focused on key areas including information needs, existing barriers to obtaining warning information, and typical responses to tornado warnings. Preliminary results of the interviews suggest many similarities exist between this population and the general public. This was most true in describing the responses taken during tornado warnings, but to some extent also true in the sources used to obtain warnings, including television and smart phone weather apps. Adaptations such as screen readers help participants to overcome the visual nature of many warnings, but two current barriers to warning information were repeated by participants. These included the lack of audio for television warning crawls, and the amount of description provided during severe weather coverage and warning messages. For example, participants mentioned wanting to hear their location, sometimes being confused about the location of rotation, and also experiencing difficulty imagining locations when they may have never seen a map. The presentation will describe what we have learned about this community from the interviews as well as discuss additional steps planned to improve the communication of tornado warnings for the Blind.