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Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities

Whether you’re preparing for an emergency in the home or a natural disaster, it’s important for everyone to have a plan in place. If you have a disability or an access and functional need, there are additional steps you can take to make sure your specific requirements are addressed in an emergency situation.

Establish a Personal Support Network

Having a support network already in place ensures you access to reinforcement in an emergency situation. This support network may include family, friends, personal attendants, neighbors, or even co-workers. It’s best to have more than one person in your support network at each location you regularly spend time, such as your home and your work.

Make sure everyone in your support network knows your emergency plans. This includes methods of contact, evacuation routes and location of emergency supplies. If you use medical equipment, show your support network how to operate them in case you require assistance.

For more information on what to plan with your support network, Ready.gov has a full list of suggestions.

Interacting with First Responders

While we all hope we never experience an emergency, it’s best to make advance preparations to help aid the work of First Responders. Different precautions can be taken, depending on your specific needs.

Deaf or Hearing Loss

  • Have a flashlight in each room of the house. This will help facilitate lip-reading or signing in the dark.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy in case you need to communicate with someone who does not understand American Sign Language.
  • It may help to write an explanation of your needs in advance. If you need an assistive device or an interpreter, write it down. For example: “I use American Sign Language, I have a hearing loss and I need an interpreter, I need my (name of device).”

Blind or Vision Loss

  • If you use a mobility cane, keep an extra in any location where you regularly spend time.
  • If you have a service animal, include your animal in any evacuation plans.  Let first responders know that there is a service animal in the home.

Speech Disability

  • If you have a speech disability, consider carrying a laminated personal communication board, if you might need assistance being understood. This could be one or several small cards containing written messages.

Mobility Disability

  • If you use a motorized wheelchair, if possible, have a lightweight manual chair available as backup.
  • If you use a mobility cane or walker, keep an extra in any location where you regularly spend time.
  • If you’re able, let first responders know the range of your mobility. This will help figure out what steps should be taken to evacuate and if the situation requires for first responders to carry you to safety.

Specialized Medications and Supplies

  • Keep medical alert tags or bracelets or written descriptions of your disability and support needs, in case you are unable to describe the situation in an emergency.

To prepare for a fire emergency, the U.S. Fire Administration has a helpful general guide, as well as information specifically for people with visual impairments and hearing impairments.

Stock an Emergency Supply Kit

In the event of a large-scale emergency, you should be prepared to spend an extended length of time on your own. If you take medicine or use a medical treatment on a daily basis, be sure you have what you need on hand to make it on your own for at least a week. If it is not possible to have a week-long supply of medicines and treatment supplies, keep as much as possible on hand and talk to your pharmacist or doctor about what else you should do to prepare.

You should also keep a copy of important documents in your emergency kit, such as a list of prescriptions, medical history, essential phone numbers, and any information related to operating equipment or life-saving devices that you rely on.

A full list of emergency kit supplies can be found on the FEMA website (PDF), but here are the most important items to keep stocked:

  • Water: one gallon per person per day, for drinking and sanitation
  • Non-perishable food: at least a three-day supply
  • Battery-powered or band crank radio
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Extra batteries for any assistance devices:  motorized wheelchair, hearing aids, personal listening device, etc.

Revised  July 23, 2014

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