Update: This transcript has been updated to meet the current AP Stylebook guidelines.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m your co-host, Grant Ferrell.
Covid-19 has – undeniably – had a huge impact on how everyone lives their lives. Even now, the KZUM newsroom is regularly providing updates for Covid-19 to keep everyone informed on changes to guidelines and risk levels.
In a recent report conducted by the Disability Rights of Nebraska, which you can find the link for in the transcript to today’s show, the organization explored the ways in which disabled individuals within our community experienced challenges at a heightened rate.
Today, we have Amy Miller joining us. Amy is a staff attorney at the Disability Rights of Nebraska and helped put together the report, which is titled “Second Class During the Pandemic.”
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And good morning, Amy. Thank you for sitting down with us.
Amy Miller, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Nebraska: Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here and always glad to be able to talk about the work that we are doing to protect people with disabilities.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Now, can you tell us a little bit about what it is you do with the disability rights of Nebraska?
Amy Miller, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Nebraska: Yes. I’m a staff attorney with disability rights, Nebraska. It’s a nonprofit designated by the federal government to protect the rights of people with disabilities. So, we receive some federal, some state funding, and private donations. And our work is to protect all people with disabilities that include physical disabilities, people with a mental health diagnosis, intellectual or developmental disabilities as well as age-related or traumatic brain injuries.
During the pandemic, our work was altered significantly. Not only because the world changed for everybody, but people with disabilities were particularly vulnerable, more likely to contract Covid-19 more likely to have serious symptoms, and more likely to potentially face death as well. So our work really had to pivot over the last couple of years to respond to this emergency.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now, in December 2021, you released a report called Second Class During the Pandemic. Now, obviously, you’ve already touched a little bit about those issues facing the disabled community during the pandemic. Can you tell us a little bit about what this report found and why your organization took the steps to look into the issues?
Amy Miller, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Nebraska: We had several areas of concern that we compiled into the single report released last winter. First of all, as vaccines became available, there was this assumption that people would go online, sign up and then drive to go get a vaccine. You can start making your own mental list of everybody that would have a problem with that. A grandparent living in a nursing home who no longer can drive or isn’t comfortable using the internet, an adult with a developmental disability living in a group home who doesn’t have the ability to drive, someone who is blind or has low vision. And the folks living in some of the assisted living facilities for people with mental illness or folks who are living below the poverty level, that may not have a car. They may be in a community where the vaccines are being made available quite far away in a town that has no bus service. The fact that Nebraska just didn’t have a plan for any of those people was really disappointing. And to be fair at the beginning of a vaccine rollout, maybe you’re just, you know, we’ve gotta start throwing things together and see what can happen. But even months, or a year later, Nebraska has never stepped up to the plate to provide for those people.
In many states what we saw was either the state using visiting nurses to go to people who live in congregate facilities like a nursing home or a group home, or they were using the national guard, using the fire department, using the local public health departments. Now I will say that although the state didn’t have a plan, what we discovered is that the state, having created the vaccine rollout, then just dumped the whole thing into the laps of the public health directors. There’s not a public health department in every county. Some counties share across several counties, but what happened is the concern of, is there gonna be a patchwork quilt where some public health directors will go to those nursing homes and some won’t. I have to say the heroes out of this tragic, tragic pandemic were our local public health directors. Although the state department of health and human services never did get around to creating a plan. The public health directors picked up the ball and figured it out. They created their own homemade solutions county by county to bring vaccines to people that were homebound or who didn’t have the ability to come down to a vaccine clinic. So, at the end of the day, there was mostly a happy ending.
What we did is we simply called every single public health department and asked what if somebody can’t get to you now, some of them said, oh, we have a plan here. We’ll put it on our website. Others said, oh, that’s a good idea. We’ll have to work on that. And at the end of the day, they all did. So, doing that sort of survey work, even though there was a pandemic and quarantine in place, we could still be connecting the disabled community with public health resources, calling and making sure that the resources were available, and then pushing the word out through social media, through news releases, and then our own connections across the state for folks that we’ve worked with for many decades.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you were mostly in charge of methodology according to Brad. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of setting up these surveys and who you were reaching out to and how many of those, those local public health departments you discuss this issue with?
Amy Miller, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Nebraska: Yeah. At the end of the day, we contacted every single public health department across the state of Nebraska. We did a survey of their website first to document whether or not the information was clearly available. We then also called to replicate the real-world experience of what would happen if somebody phoned and said ‘hi, if I can’t get to you, can you come to me?’ We recorded the results and then reported those back out to all the public health directors and their umbrella state organizations. And the few places that we talked to that didn’t initially have an in-home vaccination plan rose to the challenge when they saw what their sister county health departments were doing.
Now we also did a second sort of out-in-the-field survey that was more of a targeted survey. We started calling some of the congregate facilities. Some of these would be, you know, picture a nursing home where your grandparents live. Some of them were in assisted living, where it might be an apartment building, and in the individual apartments are adults with a serious mental health diagnosis. And they’re staffed to make sure that people are taking their medications. And then also picture jails, juvenile facilities, and group homes where there might be two or three adults with a developmental disability living together.
We started calling and tried to make sure that we hit different facilities from border to border. Now there’s several thousand. If you added all the jails, all of the group homes, all of the senior living. So, we couldn’t hit everybody, but we made an effort to hit large and small, mom and pop owned, and corporate-owned public facilities, to private facilities. And we spoke to the administrators and we asked, ‘how are you gonna handle getting your people vaccinated?’ ‘How are you currently handling social distancing?’ And there’s certainly some facilities that aren’t thrilled to get a phone call from a watchdog, but so many of them understood that at the end of the day, we weren’t trying to play gotcha with just the one nursing. We wanted to take the information and left it up to State Senators and say, why wasn’t there a comprehensive information plan sent to every nursing home? Why was it that this assisted living facility in a town of 400 was scrambling for PPE by posting on Facebook rather than having state assistance? So most of the places that we talked to were willing to share their stories. It was chilling, talking to some of the people, especially in the facilities for the aging and elderly. Those were the hardest hit by the pandemic where they lost significant numbers of their residents and the morale and spirit of staff and remaining residents was so impacted. So, we tried to take all of those sad tales and spin them into a larger picture. And when we issued the report in the winter of 2021, we gave a copy to every state senator at the Unicameral and said, we need to do better because there’s not going to be just, okay, well that was it. We’re not done. There may be another pandemic. What if this had been serious flooding and we’d had to evacuate all those nursing homes? If we couldn’t figure out how to get masks to them, how were we gonna lift all those people that are medically fragile and get them out of a dangerous area? So we really hope that from here, there will be a bigger picture where our state policymakers know we need to do a better job for the future.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, we’ve talked about the methodology. We’ve talked a little bit about those issues facing the disabled community and the elderly community throughout the course of the pandemic. Now you’re looking at legislative change. Can you tell us a little bit about the steps that disability rights of Nebraska is taking?
Amy Miller, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Nebraska: We were very fortunate to find Senator Jen Day who was willing to introduce legislation about future disaster planning. And, so, from here forward, Disability Rights Nebraska and other disability organizations will be working with NEMA – the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency – to try to imagine what will be necessary for the next emergency, whether it’s a pandemic or weather-related emergency. The piece that has not yet been tackled by Nebraska in legislation or regulation is the crisis standards of care.
As you might recall, not just in Nebraska, but nationwide so many of the Covid-19 patients ended up needing ventilators. And not every hospital has like 3000 of these laying around. There’s a limited number. They’re very complicated, expensive machines. And so on that daily dial information, there was usually reporting on how many hospital beds there were and how many ventilators. And we kept watching those numbers ticking, downward, and people being airlifted to different counties, where there were no longer ventilators.
In Nebraska, thank god it never reached the point that some states did, but some states were looking down the barrel of too many patients, not enough ventilators. And this could happen. Imagine if there had been a life-saving injection, but there’d been a limited number of vials or any other type of medically necessary care. Doctors are going to have to start making hard choices about who receives the care and who doesn’t and it’s very chillingly in a couple of states, including New York state early on in the pandemic, hospitals were proposing…let’s just say that if you have, for example, down syndrome or an intellectual disability, you would not be able to get a ventilator, just a per se decision that someone with a developmental disabilities quality of life or life was less important. And I get gross goosebumps, just thinking about that, that they were willing to put it in black and white. We’re gonna have to make choices and you are one of the ones that will. It would be a tragedy and somebody has to make a decision about length of life or likelihood of surviving and coming back out. But you can’t make that based on whether or not someone has a disability. You have to make that on medical criteria. And not because of some idea that, oh, someone who has a developmental disability is not as important or doesn’t enjoy her life as much. In Nebraska, the hospitals gathered in a private consortium and ended up with like a handshake agreement that would be medically ethics would apply and that they would not exclude people with disabilities, but that’s non-binding and was done behind closed doors.
We really think something as important as who lives and dies. If there’s a limited medical supply situation, we think that should be in regulation or in state law. And so we’re gonna continue to push for that as we watch and see how the new law for emergency planning also plays out. So we’ve had some strides forward and we’ve got some more work to do.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: Thank you, again, Amy for joining us.
Now Amy mentioned the legislative work that the Disability Rights of Nebraska is currently in the process of advocating for. We will learn more about that proposed legislation next week. For now, we have a short break and, then, we will be meeting with John Wyvill and Kelsey Cruz of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Stick with us to learn more.
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Grant Ferrell, News Intern: Before the break, we met with Amy Miller of the Disability Rights of Nebraska to discuss their recently released report titled “Second Class During the Pandemic.”
This report outlined the ways in which preventative measures and care for Covid-19 was limited for disabled individuals residing in Nebraska.
Here to expand on this report and share their experiences are Executive Director John Wyvill and Public Information Officer Kelsey Cruz of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So we are sitting down this morning to discuss Covid-19 and accessibility for the disabled community throughout the pandemic. You both work for the commission of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Correct.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Perfect. Can you tell me a little bit about what your positions are with the organization?
Kelsey Cruz, Public Information Officer for the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: I am the public information officer for the commission.
So, a large part of what I do is handling basically any external communication with the public, whether that is through social media avenues or press releases. We have quarterly newsletters. We also have an electronic newsletter that we send out for any updates throughout the community. Any events going on throughout the state that will impact or be a benefit to the community across Nebraska utilizing our website, working on that is, is really a large part of my involvement in the commission.
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: I am the executive director of the commission. My responsibility is to implement the day-to-day operations that are set forth by the board. We have a nine-member board; three deaf, three hard-of-hearing, and three at large positions. We have 14 other teammates that work with me and five offices. And we’re responsible for carrying out the mission for communication access for all of Nebraska.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Just to clarify, you mentioned that you serve all of Nebraska, not just Lincoln.
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Yes. This is the state agency that is statewide all the way from Omaha to Scottsbluff. And we have approximately 20% of the population in the state of Nebraska at some form of hearing loss. And then 1% is considered deaf.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now, obviously, we have a specific focus here and it’s on accessibility to Covid-19 information, vaccines, that sort of thing, for communities, and accessibility to information. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like for the community that you serve?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The number one challenge for the broader deaf community, which would include hard-of-hearing, is communication access in a medical setting. And it had been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the need to wear a mask and the inability to have effective communication, which had made it extremely challenging for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to navigate the pandemic, not only in the healthcare setting but in everyday life, going to the bank, going to the grocery store, because masks hinder our communication.
And, obviously, as more time has gone on, we’ve seen some alternatives to masks come out. Like the face shields or the plastic insert mask.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Has that made accessibility easier over time?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: In certain circumstances, the use of a face shield and clear math has enhanced communication, but individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing sometimes rely on facial cues, and nonverbal gestures used for the formation of words and also facial expressions to provide context for communication. So it has some limited areas of progress. The biggest challenge, however, is cultural competency and cultural humility in which that, the individuals don’t know how to navigate the communication barrier and don’t have the humility to ask the question to try and navigate.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Can you kind of describe what cultural competency and cultural humility means and what steps hearing individuals can take to bridge that gap for members of your community?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Cultural competency, in my words, is the understanding of the challenges for what it means to be deaf or hard-of-hearing and the competency of what to do and what not to do.
Cultural humility is basically to ask questions, to come from an approach that is don’t assume that we know what’s best for me. An example of a lack of cultural competency is if I fly out of the Omaha Airport, and say that I am deaf, when I show up at the airport there’ll be a person in a red jacket with a wheelchair, with my name and said, here’s your accommodation for your trip through the airport. And I’m like, I can walk. That’s an example of a lack of cultural competency and also cultural humility and not asking “what do you need” or “what worked.”
Amantha Dickman, News Director: What steps can hearing individuals take to help bridge that gap, do you think?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: I think it is situational awareness. Whether or not you be in a Walmart, a HyVee, or a Russ’s Market. If, for example, an individual there understands that there are barriers to communication, and there are a number of different options.
Like, as someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, speaking louder or yelling at me will not help matters. That is a question of, I cannot hear. Yelling or speaking in a louder volume, very much like a radio as you turn it up, but you may not necessarily comprehend.
What has to happen is that, if you choose, if you can’t you avoid what are other communications. Very simply a whiteboard, a cell phone, or something to have the technology. You know, so we have, I’ve had very entertaining conversations in HyVee and Walmart, trying to talk to people saying where is a certain product. And you may have seen on TikTok videos, those little videos where someone said, “you thought you said something when they’re saying something else. That, you know, they say something innocent and someone says something that was very dirty or offensive.
That’s where you have the communication barrier and it’s just the question of how to navigate it. So, then you have to get a phone and pull it up and say, “this is what I’m looking for”. I said, “where’s the ketchup,” you know, something very simple and it’s like, “oh, ketchup! Ketchup is that way.”
So, it’s just a question of saying that. And so that’s some of the biggest challenges.
Kelsey Cruz, Public Information Officer for the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: If I could just add, when I started at the commission, I really didn’t have any involvement with anyone who was deaf or hard-of-hearing. So the amount that I have learned about deaf culture, they have, just like any other culture, they have their own norms and way of life for them.
And I think what I’ve learned is… deaf and hard-of-hearing people live in a hearing world every day. So I think a lot of hearing people who don’t have a lot of interactions. Are nervous or afraid of how to interact with them because maybe they don’t want to offend them. Whereas, like John said, it is no sweat off… it… they’re used to communicating in our world with phones. It, they appreciate asking, “how can I communicate with you best? Or what do you prefer?”
Or I think a lot of our education with public officials, and news media, we have had in headlines and stories, deaf people are often referred to as hearing impaired. And much of the deaf community on a national scale view that term as offensive; I’m not impaired. I just can’t hear. And I asked a hearing person, and they said, “I think they view if they call someone deaf that’s offensive.” When really that’s their identity, they’re proud to be deaf and be a part of that culture and community.
So, I think, deaf people really appreciate interacting with them, asking what they prefer, their mode of communication, what’s easier for them rather than assuming you can communicate with them a certain way because you’re afraid to offend them. If that makes sense. Just being, they, they live in a hearing world every day, so they understand the challenges. It’s often the hearing people that don’t understand how to communicate with them.
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Amantha, I would suggest for the KZUM the audience is that you can do a little exercise, sit down at a table, one, pretend to be a waiter or wait with, and the other wants to order something. And obviously, without telling the other person, say, how can I order a pepperoni pizza with half mushrooms and a Diet Coke without talking and without writing anything down and only using your hands to communicate, and that will get an idea for your listening audience of some of the challenges that the other would be what if you meant one or two words and a thing. As you know, from grammar in high school and in grade school, a comma can make all the difference between time to eat grandma and time to eat, grandma two different things but imagine a situation in which you are in a doctor’s office. Trying to articulate that you had some bad food and you think you’re having a problem with the stomach and the doctor thinking you’re about to have a heart attack and they’re about to wheel you into the ER, to crack open your chest. You know? So those are some of the differences. And just assembling for your audience to say, “Hey, what’s it like to be that?”
Try going through making a deposit at a bank and talking to somebody in a bank, if you can’t yield, you know, put cotton balls in your ears and then try to make a deposit, but what do they think?
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Well, thank you for that exercise. We will absolutely include that. And thank you, Kelsey, for clarifying the preferred terminology for the community as well. We will make sure to use that moving forward.
We have talked a little bit about the struggles during Covid-19, specifically in terms of accessibility, what sort of accommodations would your organization like to see moving forward, especially since we suspect that we have another wave headed our way?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Well, I think in terms of accommodation that goes back to awareness and humility in terms of common sense. It is developing a communication plan for anyone. And it does not necessarily have to be one-size-fits-all. Because one out of three over the age of 65, have some form of hearing loss. When you go over the age of 80, it’s one in two. So, for senior adults that either have late deafness or hard of hearing or have a noted communication barrier, the communication strategy with an adult may be different than someone who’s in their 20s that has listened to their earbuds too long and has lost some of their hearing that way or from a farming community, from operating farm equipment.
So, the strategy and the message for all, is it’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s having communication strategies that work based on the individual and the understanding and flexibility to adapt and improvise and nothing is perfect. You have to adjust and modify. So, the communication strategy that would work for me perhaps would not work for a different person. For instance, what’s interesting for me, I am considered deaf all, is that I can talk on the telephone. But I have 95% hearing loss without my hearing aid in both ears. And I grew up in an environment in which I did not use American Sign Language. So, I’m considered deaf all.
There are individuals that are deaf that communicate by sign and then there are hard-of-hearing individuals that do not sign that just have different hearing losses. And how do you adapt there?
And some of the strategies that are very simple, you know, is to have a doorbell ringer that flashes the light when ringing, a telephone that flashes the light, with a number of different strategies involved. So the message for all of you is it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Develop a communication plan, whether it be a business or yourself individually, and how to adapt and saying could 20% of the consumers that you would likely interact with will have some form of hearing loss.
And the only difference between a person who is deaf and hearing is that they just can’t hear.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You mentioned American sign language earlier now. Obviously, not everyone has learned it within the community or outside of the community for that fact, obviously, but it does bring up the question. What is the best way for people outside of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to educate themselves? What resources would you suggest for people who would love to learn more? And do you offer educational resources as an organization?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Yeah, that’s an excellent question, Amantha. We at the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, if you are on social media feel free to follow our Facebook page, which has resources available on a regular basis for communicating with the deaf and hard-of-hearing. We have the word of the month and word of the week. And so we’ll concur.
That second would be to reach out to the commission. And call at (402) 471-3593. Again, that’s (402) 471-3593 and then we will have someone that will be able to provide assistance and support. And then also, finally, check our website. At the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, we have a lot of resources available. One thing that is not commonly known is something called the NSTEP program. So, if you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, the public service commission will provide a phone for free if you certify that you have some form of a hearing loss, as part of the accommodation. That can either be a cell phone or a landline phone that’s accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing. In addition, we also know that hearing aids, that a number of individuals wear hearing aids, is that hearing aids are not cheap. And we work with the hearing aid bank, Sertoma, and Lions Club for a hearing aid that can be handed out for those that do not have insurance, or Medicare, or Medicaid and cannot pay for it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Out of curiosity, do finances often present a barrier to accessibility in terms of resources for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Funding is and can be a barrier for accessibility. Like I said before, hearing aids are not cheap. Some insurance companies provide hearing aids coverage but that’s not enough. A typical hearing aid can cost from two to $5,000 for the hearing aid and for an average family of four in Nebraska that makes $45,000 a year that is simply outside their reach.
So if you can imagine, a parent that has medical bills, life bills, having a life, having to come up every three to five years with four to $5,000 for a hearing aid for their kid or for themselves, that is a substantial impact. So financial is quite a… can be quite a burden for hearing aids.
It can… also can be a burden sometimes for assisted technology that you may need around the house. However, the thumb program, the fire department from time to time has a program for accessible smoke alarms for the deaf and hard of hearing. And then we could also reach the commission for support and assistance for a technology program that might have reduced or free equipment.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: Is there a way to learn American sign language if somebody wanted to?
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Yes. It, it’s a number of ways that you can learn. First is that your local community college here in Lincoln, Southeast community has a class for credit and non-credit that you can learn if you want to work in a, learn it in a classroom environment. Also, check on our Facebook page and check our word of the week at the end of that. So, some resources that you can learn online, it just like any other. You have to use it in order to keep it.
And, so, it’s sometimes a little difficult for some of your viewers to learn it online. So they should recommend in class. Also keep an eye on our Facebook page because Kim Davis, our advocacy specialist in Lincoln, occasionally had a basic intro to sign language. You can learn several basic sign languages for you and certain basics, you know, like stop high yet, you know, hungry, mad.
Obviously, everybody knows the seven road gestures. So, a lot of the sign language makes common sense. Once you start learning the language and just like other things about learning American sign language, it’s just like everything else; like Spanish, it’s like French, it’s like German. It does not use the same English language. So, when you are saying, I see the red fox run across the road, you don’t sign it like that. There’s a certain language with sign languages that sign it differently. So, something called signing exact English, where they might use a combination of fingers, word for word, the red fox ran across the street. That’s totally different than American sign language. American sign language is visual and all the other languages are verbal.
And the best thing that I can leave for all of you with this question is one of the greatest disability rights advocates, Helen Keller, who is blind and deaf trying to describe to the hearing world what it’s like to be both said, blind cut you off from things being deaf, cut you off from people. So if you think about that, if you’re deaf and hard of hearing, you’re cut off from people, how do you break that gap?
And that one thing that we, your viewers would get from KZUM radio is that how do we build those bridges of communication? The challenges for the deaf and hard of hearing in the state of Nebraska has been investigated during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the additional communication failures that are put in place, understandably for the public health and welfare. However, the problems, once the pandemic goes away, will still be there. The challenges will be there. And the question about effective communication after being treated the same and having communication after will always be there. We will still have the problem and healthcare. We will still have the problem in the workplace. We will still have the problem at home. And so just the question of working together, breaking down those barriers. So, we are very grateful for KZUM radio for highlighting this very important message of saying, is that for the good life in Nebraska needs to be accessible for all, including the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you so much for sitting down with us. We really appreciate it.
John Wyvill, Executive Director of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Oh, no problem. That’s why we’re here.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: You just heard from Executive Director John Wyvill and Public Information Officer Kelsey Cruz of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, discussing the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities’ challenges during Covid-19.
While we have so much more to cover on this subject, it will have to wait. Next week, we will meet with Carlos Servan (Sehr – van) of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired to discuss Covid-19’s impacts on individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We will also meet with Brad Muerrens to discuss the Disability Rights of Nebraska’s work with legislative bill LB-1104. Check back next week to learn more.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to “KZUM News.”
The last few weeks we have dug in deep listening to that Humanities Nebraska “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska” event. And today we have the final segment for you.
But, before we get started, I just want to run you through who was on that panel. Joining Martha Schulski, a Nebraska state climatologist and the moderator of the event, is Mark McHargue, the president of Nebraska Farm Bureau. Next on the panel is Hannah Birge, the director of agriculture for the Nature Conservancy-Nebraska. Lastly, we have Josh Moennings, mayor of Norfolk, and Jesse Bell, the director of Water, Climate, and Health programs at UNMC.
Now, let’s listen to the panel answer some pressing climate change questions.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Any others wanna share perspective.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Oh, very anecdotally, compared to these academic responses, I speak to a lot of third and fourth-grade classrooms. And I expect, I always ask, like, “so what do you want to see more of in your community?”
And I, at the beginning, I expected to hear what we need, like a Justice at the mall or something like that, or, you know, HuHot. Actually, I heard HuHot a lot. If HuHot’s listening, Norfolk’s a market for you.
But always at the top of the list are things like more parks, more walkable neighborhoods, and cleaner air, and water. That’s always top three, top five answers. So, there’s this intuitive sense among young people, very young people, even that we need to do better.
And this is the kind of world I wanna live in. And I think the other answer to part of that is technology; embracing the technology opportunities that come with being solutions to this is, you know, precision ag technology. We have a new business coming to Norfolk that manufactures pivot and monitors and pump monitors and moisture sensors, and things like that.
There’s a huge opportunity in regions like ours for that kind of thing. And that attracts younger people, those technology jobs rooted in sustainable systems attract younger people. And there are opportunities for our smaller communities to again, engage in the new economy.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So, this question on the screen here is kind of related to what we’ve talked about with voluntary programs in incentive-based programs.
So, if mitigative actions are incentive-based, what might the funding structure source look like? Which is a complicated question. Anybody wanna take that?
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: Well, in… I work, again, with a lot of food and beverage supply chain companies and, somewhat related to the Security and Exchange Commission sort of climate-related disclosures, or at least, you know, some sort of accounting of your greenhouse gas footprint for these companies is pretty much part and parcel of what most of the large food and beverage companies do.
They’re not gonna have precise estimates, but they’re going to be able to tell you their greenhouse gas footprint associated with their direct emissions from facilities, indirect from purchase, you know energy. And then also sort of the more indirect sort of hard to calculate things. Something like, you know tilling your farm, you know, releases greenhouse gases, and then that farm sources to these companies.
And they’re also kind of trying to track down those indirect emissions as well in their supply chains and for those sort of different types of emissions, most companies have set very ambitious goals. And some of them are at 2030. Some of them are 2050. You’ll hear targets thrown around. Like I wanna, “we’re gonna be net zero across all of our operations by 2050.”
And we are trying to help the companies meet those goals cause they’re incredibly ambitious. And, oftentimes, those goals are set before there’s necessarily a plan in place. And part of getting from where they are to where they wanna go is absolutely going to be incentivizing the practices that we care about and in the food and beverage sector that is going to be incentivizing farmers to adjust their practices.
A lot of the details still need to be worked out, but it, I think it’s really important for the consumers to pay attention to those targets and hold companies speak to the fire, make sure that if those targets are being blown past, that there are some sort of repercussions and that people are paying attention.
I think that’s one way we can start sort of shifting the system towards incentivizing those practices rather than sort of forcing or compelling those practices to take place.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: So, we do have a couple of minutes left, so 90 minutes goes fast when you’re sitting around among friends here. So I did want to just ask one last question of each of you. You can kind of give us your elevator speech, kind of a last shot at the audience here.
What is something that you want the audience to take away from this conversation? It could be from your perspective, or maybe something that you, you heard somebody say that keyed into your mind. But what’s a takeaway you want folks to, to leave with?
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: You know, I think the first thing that comes to my mind is that the impacts of climate change are now. They’re here in Nebraska and those impacts are having impacts on our society and our health. And so, one, we need to make sure that we’re doing things to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that we can flatten that further curve into the future, flatten the curve. We’ve heard about that quite a bit the last couple years.
But, and then the other part of it is, we need to take action to reduce the impacts of climate change on our health now. And we need to do things through adaptation, which is basically, we need to make sure that we’re addressing the health impacts that we’re facing now.
We need to make sure that we’re building more resilient communities. We need to improve our healthcare systems. We need to make sure that we’re attacking this from multiple different angles, because if we’re able to do that, we can reduce the health impacts and the impacts that this is having on us.
And if we’re not doing that, if we wait 10, 20, 30 years, whatever, those impacts are gonna be a lot more apparent. And it’s gonna be a lot harder to right the ship at that point.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: I think a takeaway from me is, again, I’m gonna repeat it, that being part of the climate solution is also an opportunity for us economically, socially, culturally, and we have all the tools.
We have all the ingredients here in Nebraska to play a role front and center. We just need to embrace the opportunities as such and that’s everything from clean energy. I talked about a new business that’s coming. One of our bedrock industries is Nucor steel, which is North America’s largest recycler of metal to make into steel. Building on those type of things, those niches that are part of mitigation, are part of the solution and embracing the opportunities that spin off from those, I think is important. And also getting in the game policy-wise, like helping drive conversations that will bring state officials, local officials into the same room around the same table, talking about how are we best prepared for what we are seeing now, more frequent events, and how do we build for the future, and how can that not only help protect us, but help position our communities for growth.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: And I would second and third all of that. And just say that we do have the solutions we do know for the most part, what needs to be done.
And ultimately those actions are human endeavors. One thing I’ve learned through my time at the Nature Conservancy is that a lot of collective action comes down to two people having an interaction. And, so, for me, learning how to set ego aside, truly listen and build capacity in our relationships is a really wonderful and easy way that we can all build more adaptive capacity to climate change.
Cuz as Jesse says, it’s real, it’s happening. It’s here. And if we have those individual sort of resilient relationships, it’s gonna make us all weather the uncertainty much better.
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: Yeah, for me, probably, I’ve learned several things from this group and certainly relative to just societally, you know, taking care of other things outside of the thing that I think about food, you know, we talk very little about food security and in agriculture, fundamentally, that’s what we produce.
And I’m just really excited. Even on a university in, we grow a lot of corn in Nebraska. And the fact that we have researchers that are breeding corn plants to tolerate colder climates and warmer climates on both sides of the spectrum. When we think about climate change. But the takeaway that I want the audience to understand is that agriculture is highly engaged and we are for humanity because what we do is produce food for humanity.
And one of the things that climate change certainly threatens is our food supply. And that is what we wake up every day, thinking about doing, producing. And at the end of the day it’s critical that we take that responsibility humbly on. And we’re committed to ensuring that both in Nebraska and globally that we are a player in food sustainability, both in our state, country, and world.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. So, Mark, that was a great segue. You mentioned humanity. And, so, I wanted to introduce the Director of Humanities Nebraska, where it, I think we’re a little bit past time, but if you wanna close this out here.
Chris Sommerich, Executive Director of Humanities Nebraska: Please help me thank this wonderful panel. And Martha, Josh, Jesse Hannah, Mark.
It’s, we just so appreciate your time and this great discussion. We have about 50 questions we didn’t get to. There were so many questions. Thank you for everybody to everybody who submitted those, we’ll share them with the panel and figure out how to get answers out. I think we might have to do this again sometimes.
So, we just really appreciated everybody’s interest in the topic. We also put out a polling question About what it was your most impactful moment from tonight’s discussion. So, feel free to answer that one. And that will be really interesting for us to look at. I really hope you take a moment, also, if you go to our website after this there’s a QR code and, and share your thoughts, even when you go home tonight or whatever, share your thoughts about tonight’s program and, and what suggestions you might have for the future.
I really want to thank the team that planned this program. Martha, it’s not easy to moderate something like this. And I know you’ve done a lot of panels and ask you to moderate was a big, a big ask. So, we really appreciate you. I really encourage any of you who are interested in, weather and who isn’t in this state, to follow Martha’s website, the Nebraska State Climatologist. It’s a Nebraska State Climate Office, NSCO.edu.
I also want to thank Professors Joe Sarita and Jennifer Shepherd from UNL, who this program was inspired by a year-long class that they had of journalism students studying climate change in Nebraska from 2020 to 2021. And it was really inspiring and you can visit their climate change Nebraska website and see all the stories that these amazing students wrote about this topic.
And then I, excuse me, I also want to thank Humanities Nebraska’s Program Manager Kristi Hayek Carley, SheriLynne Hansen, and all the other staff at Humanities Nebraska for all the work. We couldn’t have made it, couldn’t have done it without them. And the Lied Center. Thank you for hosting us tonight.
This program is part of a national initiative called Democracy and the Informed Citizen. And that’s funded by the Mellon Foundation and administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. And we also appreciate Rhonda Seacrest, our local supporters’ help. And I think Rhonda’s with us tonight. And then, you know, Humanities Nebraska is a statewide nonprofit, and we’re working every day to help people explore what connects us and makes us human. And we saw a great example of that tonight. So, I encourage you to visit our website and, and learn more about our programs. I’d really love to do more on weathering uncertainty this fall. If you can make it to McCook in the end of July, we’re gonna have a great chautauqua about the 1950s called “The Fifties and Focus”.
And here at the Lied Center on September 28, we’ll be our Governor’s lecture and the humanities. And there’s gonna be a big announcement on that speaker in the next couple days. So, I hope you can make it. You will be thrilled with it. You won’t wanna miss it.
And then just finally just thank all of you for being here tonight. I, we just can’t do this without all of you and audience, and I hope you just drive safe and, and have a good evening. Thank you very much.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that was the last segment of the Humanities Nebraska event, “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about the climate in Nebraska.”
I hope that listening to this panel over the last couple of weeks has provided you with some useful insights into our constantly changing environment here in Nebraska. Hopefully, within the year, we can follow up and learn more about the legislative changes being proposed as a result of this discussion.
We are fast approaching the end of the hour, so here are your reminders for today:
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