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Erie County’s Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness introduces Assistive Communication Tools for first responders

Graphics-based materials facilitate interactions with people with limited English skills or disabilities that affect speech or hearing

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) developed an innovative and practical solution for first responders to use when interacting with residents who may have limited English skills or disabilities that affect speech or hearing.

Last week, PHEP staff distributed 1,350 Assistive Communication Toolkits to municipal emergency managers. Each packet contains picture boards with common words and phrases, a guide to the top 25 languages other than English used in Erie County, and other items to use with residents who may have trouble understanding spoken English.

“We were fortunate to incorporate insights and perspectives from our partners at Deaf Access Services, the International Institute of Buffalo and the Niagara University First Responders Disability Awareness Training program,” said Deputy Commissioner of Health Gregory Gill. “The feedback from internal stakeholders like the Erie County Medical Reserve Corps, Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, the Office of People with Disabilities and the Erie County Core Advisory Group was invaluable in helping us make the end result as useful as possible for first responders and the people they encounter.”

In an emergency situation, it is not always possible to find a language interpreter who can be on site. Also, an individual’s hearing or speech can be impacted by injury or illness. These toolkits allow an individual to immediately indicate medical conditions or illness, such as diabetes, cancer, epilepsy or drug allergies, to inform the first responders’ actions.

These toolkits are intended for initial use by law enforcement officials, emergency medical services, the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority, and fire departments throughout Erie County. Toolkits for hospitals, urgent care clinics, neighborhood healthcare clinics, and other responders will be distributed soon.


Erie County Department of Health, Division of Emergency Medical Services:

ECDOH, Public Health Emergency Preparedness: 

Print materials that make up the assistive communication toolkit