How to wake deaf friends and not alienate people
Fiona Stewart had a scary experience at a hotel recently. Fiona, who is Deaf, woke up surrounded by her mother, a fire-fighter and the hotel manager. No, this wasn't some kind of weird dream. The hotel’s fire alarm had been set off and the building was evacuated. When Fiona’s family found each other at the muster point, Fiona was nowhere to be seen.
Hi Fiona, Can you tell me a little bit about what happened that night?
The hotel’s fire alarm went off at seven in the morning and I wasn't evacuated. My parents got out of their room and were reassured that I was out of mine. Mum and Dad made their way to the meeting point in the hotel’s car park but it dawned on them that I wasn't there. Mum told the manager and the fire-fighters that they had missed me but the staff had informed them that everyone was accounted for.
My parents were very upset at this point, demanding my room was checked to see if I was there. Mum marched the manager and fireman to my room to see I was sleeping. It was rather unfortunate as I looked a mess and was drooling… but who cares? It was literally a matter of life or death. Or at least, it could have been. Luckily it was a false alarm. Someone had a shower and left the bathroom door open triggering the alarm with the steam.
Did the hotel offer you any equipment or mention evacuations when you checked in?
I tweeted the hotel two months before my booking to ask if they had any accessible fire alarms. They replied saying they had no equipment available. I’d hoped that in between my tweet and the date of my check in, they would sort something out.
Staff reiterated at check-in that they didn't have anything to help. I explained that I would need to be notified in the event of a fire alarm and wrote it down on the check-in sheet. I explicitly stated that someone would have to come and get me if a fire alarm went off. The staff said that they had taken this on board.
So that didn't happen then?
The person who went to check my room claimed that he did open the door but didn't see me as it was too dark. He also stated that he was distracted by other guests asking him for directions and advice. I suspect he opened the door and yelled “FIRE ALARM.” He also admitted that he didn't flick the lights on and off as per the hotel’s procedures.
How familiar are you with technology that can help in these situations?
I used Deafgard when I was at Stirling University which has come in handy as I know how to use it and often find myself explaining how it works to hotel staff.
Was fire safety something you were mindful of before this incident?
Since I've got older, I've become more aware of fire safety and always check hotel websites for any information. I'm obsessive when it comes to booking hotels and since this happened I've become a bit paranoid about fire safety. I often wake up in the middle of night to put on my Cochlear Implant to check if the fire alarm is going off.
How do you feel now about what happened that night?
When it first happened, I was angry about how it impacted my family. Now, as I look back on it, I'm not angry any more but I'm really worried that this could easily happen again or that it'll be worse. A death could occur and that'd be horrendous for everyone involved.
Do you think hotels do enough for deaf and hard of hearing guests?
I don't think hotels are really aware of what's needed for deaf guests. It’s important to highlight that evacuation by the hotel staff is not always the best answer. Deafness is an invisible disability. It's not as if we have a giant neon sign flashing above us! Most people just don't think about it and assume that we don't need any support because we look physically able.
So, in the context of fire safety, what can hotels do to help?
It's important to feel comfortable asking us what we would like you to do. After all we’re the ones who know what works best for us. Not all deaf people are the same and levels of deafness vary. Flashing lights or a strong vibrations will make a massive difference in terms of being aware that there is an alarm. Be flexible in your approach and communication. Don't be afraid to use pen and paper to communicate with your Deaf guests as this will prevent any confusion.
Lastly, a Deafgard only costs a few hundreds of pounds. That’s nothing compared to the cost of a life.
Fireco makes complying with regulations easy. We have two products which can easily notify anyone with a hearing impairment of any kind that your fire alarms are going off. For one in six people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, it can make a big difference. I’d love to talk to you about how I can make it easy for you and your customers, so email me, call me or tweet me: whatever’s easiest.
Published May 2016
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... had a scary experience at a hotel recently. Fiona, who is Deaf, woke up surrounded by her mother, a fire-fighter and the hotel manager. No, this wasn't some kind of weird dream. The hotel’s ...