Stress-Free Living

Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities

Disasters are frightening for everyone and are even more so for people with disabilities and access needs. Here, the experts at tell you how you can prepare ahead for worst-case scenarios so you and your loved ones can be prepared.

Collect and distribute information that is crucial during a disaster

The experts recommend that you create a paper copy of contact information including phone, email, and social media info for your family, friends, caregivers, neighbors and other important people/offices, such as medical facilities, doctors, schools, workplace contacts or service providers.

If you are Deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use traditional relay services or video relay service, add information for connecting through relay services on a landline phone, mobile device and computer.

Share your emergency plans with the trusted people in your support network. The experts say that this information should include where your emergency supplies are kept; what you need and how to contact you if the power goes out; and what medical devices or assistive technology you’ll need if there is an evacuation order.

Additionally, you and your support network should also know additional friends or relatives you can contact if you can’t reach other directly.

Stock a basic disaster supply kit

The kit should include everything you need to maintain your health, safety and independence. Identify essential items you and your family will need to survive for three to five days or longer, if rescuers can’t get to you immediately.

The experts say the kit should include medical supplies, assistive devices, food for your specific dietary needs, prescription medicines, diabetic supplies, hearing aid batteries, phone charger and back up battery land line phone (and TTY if you use this technology). Other items could include a manual wheelchair, extra seat cushion, egg crate padding and other medical equipment and mobility devices you may need to maintain your health, safety and independence, and supplies for your service animal.

You should also plan for the needs of people who may have a hard time in unfamiliar or chaotic surroundings. Some suggestions from the experts: handheld electronic devices with movies and games (don’t forget spare chargers and batteries) as well as sheets and twine or a small pop-up tent to decrease stimulation.

Make a medical plan

Even if you do not use a computer, put important information onto a flash drive or mobile device for easy transport in the event of an evacuation, the experts say. Have your medical professionals update it every time they make changes in your treatment or care.

Maintain a list of phone numbers for your doctors, pharmacy, service providers and medical facilities.

Ask your local pharmacy or doctor to provide a list of your prescription medicine and medically prescribed devices.

Make hard copies and maintain electronic versions, including a portable thumb drive containing: medical prescriptions; doctors’ orders for Durable Medical Equipment, Consumable Medical Supplies and assistive devices; medical insurance cards, Medicare or Medicaid card, a list of your allergies, and your health history.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services online tool helps people locate and access their electronic health records from a variety of sources:

If you own a medical alert tag or bracelet, wear it. 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.

If possible, stock extra over the counter and prescription medicine, oxygen, insulin, catheters, feeding tubes, cannulas, tubing, trach tubes, wipes, pads, undergarments, ostomy supplies, leg bags, adhesive and other medical supplies you use.

Get ready for a possible evacuation

During an emergency, be ready to explain to first responders and emergency officials that you need to evacuate and choose to go to a shelter with your family, service animal, caregiver, personal assistant, and your assistive technology devices and supplies. You may want to have laminated instructions in print or pictograms if you find it difficult to be understood.

Be sure all of your assistive devices are clearly labeled with your name and contact information using methods that are resistant to water and other kinds of damage. If you cannot evacuate with your wheelchair, take your cushion.

Make a power outage plan

Plan ahead for alternative ways to charge your mobile devices, and communication and assistive technology devices before disaster strikes.

If you use oxygen or mechanical ventilation, call your power company and ask them what you can expect from them in a power outage. The experts say you may be able to register with the utility company.

If you cannot be without power, plan for how you will obtain power backup. Consider having backup batteries, a generator, solar or alternate. You should also consider foot pumps and other simple tools.

Buy extra batteries for power wheelchairs or other battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices. Find out if you can charge your wheelchair or devices from a car or using rechargeable marine batteries. Make sure you assemble what you’ll need in advance.

Plan for medications that require refrigeration.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Have on hand extra batteries and a spare charger for hearing aids, cochlear implant and/or personal assistive listening device. Keep records of where you got your hearing aids and exact types of batteries.

Consider how to receive emergency information if you are unable to use a TV, radio or computer, such as social media or through your mobile device.

Use a NOAA Weather Radio for Deaf and Hard of Hearing that has an adaptive weather alert system.

Many new cell phones and smart phones have an alerting capability that includes specific sounds and vibrations that can be set to signal users of an emergency.  Download the FEMA app to receive safety tips and weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations across the nation, maps of open shelters and disaster recovery centers, information in Spanish and to apply for assistance.

Keep a TTY or other analog-based amplified or captioned phone as part of your emergency supply kit.

Blind or low vision

Keep Braille/text communication cards, if used, for 2-way communication.

Mark emergency supplies with Braille labels or large print.  Keep a list of your emergency supplies on a portable flash drive, or make an audio file that is kept in a safe place where you can access it.

Keep a Braille, or Deaf-Blind communications device as part of your emergency supply kit.

If you use assistive technology devices, such as white canes, CCTV, text-to-speech software, keep information about model numbers and where you purchased the equipment, etc.

Speech disability

If you use an augmentative communications device or other assistive technologies, plan how you will evacuate with the devices or how you will replace equipment if lost or destroyed.  Keep Model information, where the equipment came from (Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, etc.)

Plan how you will communicate with others if your equipment is not working, including laminated cards with phrases and/or pictograms

Mobility disability

If you use a power wheelchair, if possible, have a lightweight manual chair available as a backup. Know the size and weight of your wheelchair in addition to whether or not it is collapsible, in case it has to be transported.

Purchase an extra battery for a power wheelchair or other battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices. If you are unable to purchase an extra battery, find out what agencies, organizations, or local charitable groups can help you with the purchase. Keep extra batteries on a trickle charger at all times.

Consider keeping a patch kit or can of sealant for flat tires and/or extra inner tube if wheelchair or scooter is not puncture proof. (from Nusura/CalEMA)

Keep an extra mobility device such as a cane or walker, if you use one.

If you use a seat cushion to protect your skin or maintain your balance, and you must evacuate without your wheelchair, take your cushion with you.

Service Animals

Make plans in advance for your service animal’s health and safety whether you both stay at home, or throughout evacuation.

Stock food, water, portable, water dish, potty pads and bags, and medications. Have identification, licenses, leash, harness and a favorite toy for your service animal.

Consider paw protection. You may be evacuating over sharp objects such as debris and broken glass.

If you go to a public shelter, by law all service dogs and miniature horses (but no other animals) are allowed inside and must be allowed to remain with you in all areas of the shelter. You do not need to show any proof but you may be asked to answer two questions that service animal owners are taught to anticipate. Some shelters will accommodate other service animals. Know what to expect before you need sheltering.

Plan for someone else to take care of your service animal if you are not able to following a disaster.

Adapted from materials published by For more information and printable disaster-preparedness forms, click here.


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