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The sirens were going off in the background as sweat dripped from my head. My muscles were in overdrive trying to transfer my sister from her bed to her motorized wheelchair. My heart was pounding through my chest and my mind was on one singular thought, we needed to get out of here now!
A huge sigh of relief escaped my chest as I finally got her in her chair and situated. However, that relief was short-lived because the wheelchair wouldn’t turn on. Quickly, my eyes scanned all around the chair trying to find out what was wrong but I knew nothing of how this hunk of metal, plastic, and wires worked. After a few moments of failed attempts, I collapsed to the floor and hung my head.
I didn’t know what to do, we were done.
The above scenario is just one example of many thoughts I have had about emergencies and people with disabilities. Preparing for disasters or emergencies under normal circumstances is challenging enough, doing so when a member of your group has a disability may seem unimaginable.
But it’s not.
Preparation And Disabilities
Just like preparing for anything else, there are a few key things to keep in mind when making emergency preparations for someone with a disability. Take it one step at a time, think through everything thoroughly, and personalize your supplies and plans to their individual needs.
There are far too many disabilities and the challenges that come with those to list them all in this single article, but I am going to do my best to hit on some of the main issues associated with common disabilities and ways you can prepare for them. I hope that this article will act as a springboard for you to then make customized plans for your individual situation.
These days, many people take daily medications, whether that be over-the-counter medications or ones that are prescribed. In either case, medications may be extremely difficult to come by when an emergency happens.
Over-the-counter meds are easier to plan for as they are more common, do not require a prescription, and you can start stockpiling them today as your budget allows.
Prescription meds will require a bit more work. The first thing you should do is talk with your doctor and make a plan for what you can do during an emergency. This could include having more meds on hand than you normally would in a month or possible alternative medications you can take should your primary meds become unavailable. It would also be worth checking into any natural remedies that can help a condition as these materials may be easier to come by.
If the pharmacy that you use is part of a larger network, be sure to make a note of their other locations in case you have to leave town.
Some medications need to stay within a certain temperature range for them to remain effective. In this situation, you need to plan a way to keep them cool. This can include a small refrigerator with a dedicated backup power supply or even just a cooler with some ice.
Being visually impaired can certainly make an emergency situation scarier and more difficult. It is critical that you go over emergency plans and where supplies are located frequently with someone who is visually impaired. This way they can develop a mental map to use if you are not always by their side.
Using a touch system, such as braille, will allow them to be able to identify places and objects in their environment. Punch style braille makers are quite affordable and can be used on a variety of materials or if you can spend a little more, you can purchase a braille label maker. Another option is to get yourself a pack of bump dots that are easier to detect and can be used for creating your own system.
Many visually impaired people use canes to help them get around their environment and to avoid dangers or obstacles. Folding canes are very popular because they are so convenient to carry and due to the low price, you can easily purchase several extra to have on hand.
Auditory aides are also beneficial to have. These audio systems can alert them when dangers arise and may even be able to tell them what to do. One example is an NOAA emergency radio with auditory warnings.
The Hearing Impaired
We use auditory signals daily to alert us when something important is going on. Car horns, sirens for severe weather, and alerts on our smartphones, just to name a few.
These auditory warnings must be turned into visual warnings for the hearing impaired, such as lights that will flash when your attention is needed or a device that vibrates when you need to be alerted of something.
Learning sign language is a great way to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired and there are a ton of great resources to learn how to sign, such as this YouTube channel. Also, be sure to have some stationary, such as paper, pens, markers, or a whiteboard as another means of communication.
Conditions that affect mobility are wide in scale but here are some things to keep in mind when trying to prepare for someone with such a disability. If a person is fully immobilized, you are going to need devices that help you move them, such as beds with wheels, wheelchairs, transfer chairs, transfer boards, or gait belts.
Power wheelchairs are great to have for people with limited mobility or the elderly, however, without a power supply, these types of chairs are difficult to push and nearly impossible to get over obstacles. Manual wheelchairs are much easier to push and in the worst-case scenario, you can remove a person from the chair, carry them over the obstacle and retrieve the chair.
If you have a power wheelchair be sure to have extra batteries and an alternative power source to keep them charged. You should also be familiar with how wheelchairs work and how to maintain them, troubleshooting measures for power wheelchairs, and have spare parts and the tools needed to make any repairs.
If you use a prosthetic limb, have an extra one available and any materials or tools that go along with its use and maintenance.
Mental health conditions can be quite challenging to deal with during an emergency, in part because the high-stress situation may make the condition worse. ADD, ADHD, severe anxiety or depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and autism, are just a few examples of these types of conditions.
Someone with this type of diagnosis may have a skewed perception of their environment, trouble identifying dangers and warning signs, difficulty with problem-solving, and a variety of other inabilities that are detrimental during an emergency or disaster.
During this high-stress and potentially dangerous time, it is absolutely imperative that these individuals are not left alone. They may be more scared than you realize and could quickly make a decision that is not safe. This is another reason an individual should have some sort of medical ID in case they ever get separated from you because they may not be able to tell others what is wrong with them.
I don’t have a list of items you should have because, with this topic, everyone’s specific needs are so different. The best thing that you can do is to sit down and start making a list of everything that helps and hurts this person and from that list, you can make a plan and get the supplies you need to take care of them during an emergency.
Below are some video resources on handling developmental issues.
For a more in-depth look at how to make emergency plans for people with disabilities, click here.