In continuation of our series on emergency preparedness and people with disabilities, we are highlighting resources and information for people with mobility disabilities along with our colleagues at AbleData. People with mobility disabilities and older adults may adversely affected by disasters, natural or man-made. They may face challenges in receiving timely alerts, being able to evacuate, maintaining or losing necessary assistive devices or medical equipment, and other issues. Preparing for emergencies is key, including creating a “go bag”, making an emergency plan, and staying informed about situations in your area.
People with mobility disabilities, their families, and their caregivers are in the best position to know their abilities and needs before, during, and after a disaster, and they may benefit from tips about managing communications, equipment, service animals, pets, and home hazards. Although there are many sample planning templates and checklists available to guide them, their plans must fit their own unique circumstances. Using key principles from National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities, below are some tips and resources to help individuals who have mobility disabilities prepare for and stay safe during an emergency:
- The Regional Centers in the NIDILRR-funded ADA National Network conduct research and provide information on emergency preparedness and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, the ADA National Network has created factsheets in English and Spanish that include information on the ADA and emergency preparedness. To find your Regional Center and to see the emergency preparedness and ADA information that they provide, please visit the ADA National Network’s regional map to find your Center’s contact information.
- The Paralysis Resource Center’s Living with Paralysis blog features several articles offering advice on planning for, enduring, and recovering from disasters such as the importance of a “paralysis go bag”, preparing for winter, and how personal preparation can save your life.
- Keep your mobility devices handy, such as a cane, crutch, walker, power-driven, or manually operated wheelchair, or three-wheeled cart or scooter. Have an extra mobility device accessible that can be used and transported during an emergency.
- Have a tire patch kit, device for adding air in to tires, or an extra battery for a motorized wheelchair or scooter available.
- Create a portable emergency kit to hold important evacuation items and place in a bag that attaches to the mobility device.
- Brainline, a service from WETA, provides in-depth yet easy to read information for people with mobility disabilities that includes sections on preparation, evacuation, fire, service animals, sheltering, ready kits and go bags, and where to get information.
- The Red Cross provides information about disaster safety for people with disabilities that includes information on being prepared ahead of time, creating a back-up plan, and creating an evacuation plan.
- It is also important to be prepared for emergencies while you are at work. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the US Department of Labor has created tools and guides for employers that account for and address the needs of employees with mobility disabilities or other types of disabilities. ODEP also includes additional resources such as a list of state emergency management agencies and effective communications for people with disabilities before, during, and after emergencies.
For emergency planners and municipal administrators, the following resources may be helpful in creating inclusive disaster plans:
- The ADA National Network’s frequently asked questions includes requirements that apply to a public entity’s emergency telephone services, such as 911. The Pacific ADA Regional Center produces a regular webcast series in collaboration with FEMA focusing on inclusive emergency planning and management.
- When it comes to maneuvering through and exiting a building, individuals with mobility or lower-extremity disabilities may encounter several obstacles, including ascending/descending steps, maneuvering through narrow spaces, negotiating steep paths, and traversing over rough or uneven surfaces.
- If there are stairwells in the circulation path, the individual with mobility limitations or lower extremity disabilities may not be able to travel to the standard exit or area of refuge unassisted. If this is the case, emergency evacuation carriers, emergency evacuation blankets, or evacuation chairs can assist people with safe evacuation when stairs are the only exit.
- Individuals with mobility or lower extremity disabilities need to know where the exits and areas of refuge are, as well as if there is a usable circulation path (i.e., a continuous and unobstructed route) to these locations. Identify all usable circulation paths with the international symbol of accessibility and provide individuals with mobility disabilities with a map showing directional signs to all usable circulation paths.
- If individuals with mobility or lower extremity disabilities cannot safely and independently travel to or through the exit or area of refuge, they will need assistance. Make sure they have a supporter to aid them. This person should be prepared to contact them during an evacuation and/or to meet at a prearranged location; escort them; open doors along the way; operate any emergency evacuation equipment; and wait with them in the area of refuge until first responders arrive. For disability etiquette tips, see this article by United Spinal.
- Whenever possible, include people with mobility disabilities in community-level emergency planning. Contact your local Center for Independent Living to connect with advocates in your area. Inclusive emergency management starts with making a space at the table for everyone who might be impacted in a disaster.
NARIC’s information specialists searched REHABDATA and found over 20 articles on emergency preparedness and people with mobility disabilities, including:
- The article, Evacuation preparedness in full-time wheelchair users with spinal cord injury, discusses a study from the University of Pittsburgh Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury that analyzed and evaluated the efficacy of evacuation plans described by people with spinal cord injuries (SCI). The study found that people with SCI who believe that they have plans are not adequately prepared for an emergency evacuation. The results also show that interventions are needed to improve evacuation readiness and lack of preparedness in an emergency or disaster should be considered by emergency personnel when they respond to an emergency or disaster.
If you would like to learn more about emergency preparedness and people with mobility disabilities, please contact NARIC’s information specialists. Or if you would like to learn about assistive technology during an emergency, including emergency evacuation technology, contact your state’s Assistive Technology Project.
Explore other issues in this series: