Planning for People with Disabilities
Making local government emergency preparedness and response programs accessible to people with disabilities is a critical piece of a community’s overall emergency planning process.
This quick-start guide will help make sure everyone in your community is cared for in a disaster.
Consider the elements of emergency planning, and how those pieces might involve people with disabilities. Issues that have the greatest impact on people with disabilities include: - Notification - Evacuation - Emergency transportation - Sheltering - Access to medications, refrigeration, and back-up power - Access to their mobility devices or service animals while in transit or at shelters - Access to information. Remember the needs of people who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes or crutches, or people who have limited stamina. What about people who use oxygen or respirators? Or people who are blind or are hard of hearing?
How do you receive emergency messages? Hearing an alert on the radio? Seeing a ‘scroll’ on the television? Seeing police lights?
How would you receive messages without the ability to hear or see?
Develop warning methods that ensure all citizens have access to relevant information and are empowered to make their own decisions. Often combining many methods of alerts – both audible and visual – will provide the best outcome.
Some ideas include text messaging, television captioning, door-to-door contact by police or volunteers, or telephone calls.
When an evacuation is requested or ordered, remember that some members of your community may need some assistance in complying. Without electricity, elevators may not function. Individuals relying on community transportation programs may need assistance. Some may simply need help in understanding their options and the instructions.
Assure that your community Emergency Evacuation Plan incorporates plans helping people with disabilities to evacuate. Address accessible transportation needs for people who use wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility aids as well as people who are blind or who have low vision. This may involve emergency services or volunteers.
Do you know where those people with disabilities are? Some communities, including Franklin County, have instituted voluntary registries for these people so that, in case of emergency, help can be provided as quickly as possible.
In an emergency, a temporary shelter may become home for displaced citizens. Surely your community has made arrangements for shelters to be stocked with supplies, but have you considered how accessible the shelter is for people with disabilities? Consider for example an individual using a wheelchair or scooter arriving at the shelter only to find no accessible entrance, accessible toilet, or accessible shelter area.
Talk with representatives of area disability organizations. Invite them to meet with you and review your emergency planning. Together find issues that need improvement for proper accessibility.
Invite these groups to tour your shelters. Examine the layout to assure that all needed spaces – restrooms, food areas, sleeping areas - are accessible. If you find barriers, work with the facility to plan for addressing these issues before an emergency arises.
Remember that some people may have service animals. While some shelters do not allow pets, these service animals are exempted from such rules.
In addition, some medications may require constant refrigeration – like insulin for diabetics. Make plans for these resources to be available.
Develop ways to make information available to people who might be deaf or hard of hearing, and for people with speech disabilities. Make sure your staff and volunteers are trained on basic procedures for providing accessible communication, including exchanging notes or posting written announcements to go with spoken announcements.
Train staff to read printed information, upon request, to persons who are blind or who have low vision.
When the emergency is over and people may return home, remember that some people might need assistance. Using the same information you discovered during the evacuation process, provide assistance to individuals with disabilities to return to their homes.
Make sure to consider their individual needs. If an individual with a mobility device needs a ramp into their home, and it was destroyed in a flood – they will need special assistance. Consider temporary housing if individuals cannot return home immediately.