Emergency Preparedness and People with Visual Disabilities

National Preparedness Month may be winding down, but the need to be prepared for emergencies never disappears: Natural and man-made disasters can happen at any time. Together with our colleagues at AbleData, we’re publishing a series of blog posts throughout this week to bring you emergency preparedness resources for people with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters. People with disabilities and older adults may not be able to evacuate, they may lose or not be able to use their assistive technology (AT) devices and may face additional challenges to activities of daily living during an emergency or in an evacuation situation.

To make things easier during an emergency or evacuation situation, it can help to prepare ahead of time (#PreparedNotScared). Using key principles from National Fire Protection Association’s Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities (PDF), we’ve gathered research and resources from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere to help people with visual disabilities, their families, and their service animals prepare for and stay safe during an emergency.

  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) keep you up to the minute on emergencies in your community, but it’s important to be able to access these alerts and understand them. The NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Inclusive Technologies (Wireless RERC) creates and promotes inclusive wireless technologies that improve the ability of people with disabilities, including visual disabilities, to perform activities of their choice independently: now, in a fully-engaged and all-inclusive future, and during emergencies. They shared what you need to know about Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), step-by-step instructions for finding WEA settings on an Android, and apps for enhancing WEA access.
  • Know your transportation options and have an evacuation plan in place if you have to leave. The NIDILRR-funded National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision’s Transportation Guide for Persons who are Blind or Low Vision contains helpful information about finding and using transportation options and is designed for persons with vision impairments or those who serve them.
  • Learn how to create an emergency preparedness kit to have what you need on hand whether you need to shelter in place or leave in a hurry with the Research and Training Center on Independent Living. Your supplies should include food and water for several days, including food and water for your service animal, an up-to-date first aid kit, an extra mobility device (such as a white cane) if needed, and enough medication to last for several days (a number of  audible, tactile, and large print medication reminders, dispensers, and pill holders are available on the market). Have a backup battery or generator for your cell phone or any assistive devices that need power. The staff at AbleData can help you identify additional assistive technology solutions to have in an emergency.
  • BrailleWorks has a list of steps to take before an emergency. These steps including checking to see if Smart 9-1-1 or similar service is available in your area, becoming educated on the services and resources that are available through various agencies, and making sure that you have a battery-powered device that will play your audio files if audio is your preferred accessible format for important documents like health records.
  • The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress has created a guide on emergency preparedness for people with visual disabilities. This guide includes resources such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Checklist for Emergency Shelters, the Disaster Recovery Center Locator from FEMA, emergency tips for people with visual disabilities, information and resources for specific types of emergencies, and more.
  • The American Council of the Blind compiled information on emergency preparedness for service animals and/or pets (PDF)in collaboration with the American Red Cross and The Humane Society of the United States. The information includes what you need to do first to prepare your service animal in case of an emergency and what to include in your animal disaster kit.
  • Brainline, a service from WETA, provides disaster readiness tips for people with sensory disabilities that include setting up a support network at home, work, and school, considering purchasing a National Weather Radio (NWR), and being prepared to tell shelter operators what your needs are.
  • Do not hesitate to contact your local Center for Independent Living (CIL), who will help you find local information and resources on emergency preparedness, individual and systems advocacy, and more.
  • If you would like to find more local resources and information for people with visual disabilities, call 2-1-1.

If you are an emergency planner in your community, it’s important to consider the unique needs of people who are blind or have low vision. Here are some things to consider:

  • Know that individuals who are blind may need to rely heavily on verbal cues and instructions during an evacuation situation and may need someone’s assistance to physically guide them through a building. Individuals who have low vision may be able to differentiate between light and dark, detect sharply contrasting colors, or read large print; however, they may not be able to read small print, navigate dimly lit spaces, or tolerate high glare. Do not rely on color alone for signage or print materials, as individuals with colorblindness may have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors.
  • Review procedures and equipment regularly. This Checklist for Maintaining Site Accessibility During Emergencies (PDF) from the NIDILRR-funded Pacific ADA Regional Center can help keep your site up to date. Learn more about inclusive emergency preparedness in their continuing inclusive emergency preparedness webinar series, produced in collaboration with FEMA.
  • Consider smoke detectors that issue verbal warnings or other accessible information and ensure these are working properly, including checking batteries regularly.
  • If you are planning evacuation routes, mark exits with tactile signs containing tactile letters, Braille, and/or pictograms. Consider tactile orientation marking for floors.
  • Train emergency personnel, including volunteers, in the best ways to interact with people who are blind or have low vision, starting with Blind Etiquette: Six Ways to be Gracious Around People with Visual Impairments from the Perkins School for the Blind. Learn about the best ways to assist a person with visual disabilities in this video guide from the Lighthouse Guild.
  • If at all possible, contact local CILs or vision-related organizations to encourage members of their communities to participate in community-level emergency planning. Inclusive emergency preparedness starts by making a space at the table for everyone who may be impacted.

Over the years, NIDILRR has funded research projects on emergency preparation and safety for people with disabilities. We looked at the history of these research projects and the newest efforts funded by NIDILRR in Inclusive Disaster Preparedness – Progress Made, Progress to Come, part of our NIDILRR at 40 series. NARIC’s information specialists searched REHABDATA and found 11 articles from the NIDILRR and beyond on emergency preparedness and visual disabilities. They also searched for emergency preparedness and found over 250 articles from the NIDILRR community and beyond. If you would like to learn more about emergency preparedness and AT for people with visual disabilities, please contact NARIC’s and AbleData’s information specialists.

Explore all of the articles in this series:

Emergency Preparedness and People with Auditory Disabilities.

Emergency Preparedness and People with Mobility Disabilities.

Emergency Preparedness and People with Psychiatric Disabilities.

Emergency Preparedness and People with Intellectual, Developmental, or Cognitive Disabilities.

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4 Responses to Emergency Preparedness and People with Visual Disabilities

  1. Pingback: Emergency Preparedness and People with Auditory Disabilities | Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

  2. Pingback: Emergency Preparedness and People with Mobility Disabilities | Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

  3. Pingback: Emergency Preparedness and People with Psychiatric Disabilities | Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

  4. Pingback: Emergency Preparedness and People with Intellectual, Developmental, or Cognitive Disabilities | Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

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