The Canadian Hearing Society calls for Government funding for visual alarms and emergency notification systems for deaf and hard of hearing people
Toronto, ON, Fire Prevention Canada and the Office of the Fire Marshall of Ontario launched their Fire Prevention Awareness Week to raise awareness of fire prevention and safety. Since “CHS Day on Queen’s Park” on May 5, 2010, The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) has urged government to prioritize funding visual alarms and emergency notification systems for Ontarians who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing. To date, CHS has received no formal response from Queen’s Park regarding Assistive Devices Program funding.
Toronto Star’s editorial, dated September 9, 2010, stated that, “McGuinty also needs to start delivering on ‘good news’ items, both large and small. A good example of a small item is a private members bill proposed by Wayne Arthurs, MPP for Pickering-Scarborough East that would require all new provincial and municipal public buildings to be equipped with a visual fire alarm system so that deaf and hard of hearing people are alerted to fire alarms”.
Wayne Arthurs, will re-introduce, for the third time, a private member bill on Visual Fire Alarm Systems, Bill 76, (Visual Fire Alarm Systems Act, 2010) on Thursday, October 7. His earlier bills – 148 and 59 – received second reading and have been endorsed by all political parties. Furthermore local MPPs raised some important points that the bills need to expand to include old provincial government and municipality buildings as well as private homes.
Ironically, during this year’s Fire Prevention Awareness Week, the theme is “Smoke Alarms-A Sound You Can Live With”. But what if you can't hear the smoke detector or fire alarm?
“There have been a number of recent reports of people with hearing loss who have died in a fire because they haven’t had effective alarms in their homes,” said Chris Kenopic, CHS President and CEO. “Alarms, whether activated by heat, smoke, toxic fumes or a break-in into a home, warn of imminent danger by sound; but these notification systems fail completely for Ontarians who are Deaf or have a hearing loss because they are unable to hear the alarm.”
For many Deaf and hard of hearing Ontarians living safely in their homes or apartments, and compliance with legislation, does not simply mean purchasing a $15 smoke detector from a retail store. Auditory alarms are simply not accessible. But the cost of hardwiring an accessible, visual strobe alarm is considerable.
Visual fire alarms and visual emergency notification systems are essential to the safety of Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing Ontarians. Accessible emergency notification is an issue quite simply of life and death.
The St. Catharines Standard article, “Woman dies in house fire”, posted March 16, 2009, brought to light the importance of fire safety and accessible smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and for those who are deaf or have hearing loss, this means visual alarms. In this particular case, the article states that a carbon monoxide detector was sounding when the emergency workers arrived at the scene. Lynda Williams’ son also stated that Ms Williams’ hearing aids would not have been in.
The Canadian Hearing Society holds the following position:
Alarms, whether activated by heat, smoke, toxic fumes or a break-in into a home, warn of imminent danger by sound. Similarly, emergency notification systems in public places (e.g., airports) rely not only on alarms but also in many cases the ability to convey urgent information over a public address system. In the midst of an emergency situation, just imagine how critical warnings or instructions are to survivors or evacuees!
Yet, as life saving as these emergency notification measures and devices are, it is important to remember that, for culturally Deaf, oral deaf, and deafened, as well as many hard of hearing Canadians, they fail completely.
Due to the amount of power required by devices, such as a visual smoke detector strobe light, these systems must be hardwired at considerable additional expense when compared to that of a standard smoke detector. In our view it is inequitable that culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened or hard of hearing Canadians have to pay this additional cost and just as the purchase of communication aids and devices is eligible for some degree of financial support under, for example the Assistive Devices Program in Ontario, it is our position that the installation of visual fire alarms and visual notification systems should as well.
Further, it is the position of CHS that all builders and landlords should be required to install visual fire alarms in individual buyer’s or tenant’s units at no cost. However, we also believe that both builders and landlords should be able to recoup the additional expense from government.
It is important to emphasize that anyone receiving Ontario Disability Supports Program (ODSP) assistance is entitled to have visual fire alarms and the associated electrical work covered by ODSP. These important devices are not covered under the Ontario Assistive Devices Program.
What can you do?
If you share the concerns of The Canadian Hearing Society, express support that the there should be regulations put in place and financial assistance available for the installation of visual alarms, not only for government and municipality buildings but for private homes and residences too.
In 2005, the Ontario Fire Code was amended and now requires residents to install smoke detectors on every floor of their home. This is a costly proposition for anyone with hearing loss.
"Visual alarms and notification systems are more expensive than most auditory alarms,” said Gary Malkowski, CHS Special Advisor to the President, Public Affairs. “They must support strong strobe lighting, which battery-operated devices do not. As a result the devices must be hardwired into the electrical system of the home at considerable expense.”
Currently the law does not address who is responsible for the cost of, or the installation of, a visual fire alarm or notification system within individual apartment units, new condominium units and/or new homes. In particular, landlords are not required to provide visual fire alarms for their culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing residents and neither are home builders required to install such devices into new homes or condominium units.
“It’s inequitable that Ontarians with hearing loss should have to pay the additional expense to comply with the provincial fire code,” said Kenopic “CHS will advocate on the behalf of these residents to urge the government to provide funding to offset these costs.”
The Canadian Hearing Society is the leading provider of services, products, and information that remove barriers to communication, advance hearing health, and promote equity for people who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing
Gordana Mosher, Public Relations Coordinator
The Canadian Hearing Society
416-928-2500 Ext. 284