For People with Sensory Disabilities
This brochure is designed to help people with sensory disabilities begin to plan for emergencies. The term “sensory disabilities” refers primarily to people with hearing or visual limitations, such as low or no vision, as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Prepare Yourself: Disaster Readiness Tips for People with Sensory Disabilities (PDF Version)
- A text version of this document can be found below
To be better prepared as a nation, we all must do our part to plan for disasters. Individuals with or without disabilities can lessen the impact of a disaster by taking steps to prepare before an event occurs.
This brochure is designed to help people with mobility disabilities begin to plan for emergencies. The term “mobility disabilities” refers primarily to people with little or no use of their legs or arms. They generally use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, and other devices as aids to movement.
You can take small steps every day to become better able to survive an emergency. Read NOD’s general brochure, “Prepare Yourself: Disaster Readiness Tips for People with Disabilities.” Identify your resources, develop a support network, make a plan, and create a Ready Kit and a Go Bag. Start today to become better prepared, safer, and more secure.
Learn about hazards that may impact your community (blizzards, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, floods, etc.) You can get information from your State and local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) or Homeland Security Office by visiting their Websites. If you don’t have computer access, you can obtain much of this information through brochures from these offices.
If you need these items in an alternate format, i.e., Braille, audiotape, large font, then ask. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entitles you to this accommodation. The ADA also requires that any video for a public audience be, at a minimum, close-captioned for persons who are deaf. You may have to wait a reasonable time while an alternate-format document is prepared. By making the request, however, you assist a vital arm of government to educate itself about the needs of persons with disabilities.
Other Emergency Plans
Find out about emergency plans developed at your workplace or by community-based service providers, etc. Review those plans to find out if they include your specific needs. Depending on the size of the organization, the plans might not be as well developed as those available from your local or state EMA.
Personal Support Network
Establishing solid relationships with other people is one of the most effective means of surviving a disaster. Create a network of trusted individuals such as family, friends, co-workers, personal attendants, etc. who can assist you during an emergency. Your networks should be part of your planning process and familiar with your functional abilities and limitations. Establishing a solid relationship with other people is one of the most effective means of surviving a disaster.
Tip: Form a network of people who can help one another during emergencies at home, work, or school.
WARNING AND RESPONSE
If you’re at work when a disaster occurs, an alarm may sound or an automated message may be sent over an intercom. People who are blind can hear these alarms with no difficulty, but the noise is often so loud that it drowns out other audio cues, such as the sound of people running. People who are deaf should find out if fire alarms at their work site are visual (flashing strobe lights) as well as audible. A support network will be especially critical for deaf people who work alone in offices far from visual alerts.
In a 2004 survey of emergency managers around the U.S., 42% said they had a public awareness campaign directed at providing emergency information to people with disabilities. Only 16% of those provide information in accessible formats (i.e. Braille, cassette, large type, etc.)
At home, nearly everyone relies on radio or TV for emergency information. Generally, people who are blind will find radio more useful. However, radio stations in smaller communities sometimes close after sunset, or run automated programming with no staff present.
Emergency Information on TV
Regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) require that spoken emergency information on TV also be presented in a visual form. The information is shown either on a special line on the screen, or through a superimposed text crawl. A sign-language interpreter may stand next to the speaker.
New technologies offer convenient options for receiving emergency information. Text- messaging pagers with broadcast weather alerts can be connected to the EMA for one or more counties to provide immediate warnings. Individuals who use telecommunications relay services now have different options to use as an emergency backup, including dialing 711 (nationwide), CapTel (captioned telephone), Internet-based relay (through computer, text pager, PDA, etc.), and/or video relay services (through broadband). These services may fail in a major disaster, so it is still important to establish a network of hearing friends, family, and coworkers.
General and “Special Needs” Shelters
Unless you have other severe disabilities, you should have little or no difficulty as a person who is deaf or blind staying in a public shelter for a short time. People with more serious needs might be directed to use the nearest “special needs” shelter, where medical issues can receive appropriate attention.
Conditions in a general shelter (usually a school building or an auditorium) are crowded, noisy, and boring. But these facilities, operated by the local American Red Cross chapter or community-based agencies, can save your life. People with hearing or vision impairments or who are blind or deaf have a right under the ADA to use general public shelters. A person who is blind or visually impaired will need assistance finding a place to sit and the location of the restroom and food line. A person who is deaf or hearing impaired can get oriented relatively easily, but may need to communicate with others without an interpreter.
Federal law also allows you to bring your guide dog or service animal into the shelter. Be prepared to explain this to the staff, some of whom may be unfamiliar with this fact. You also have the responsibility to care for your companion animal while the two of you are in the shelter.
READY KIT AND GO BAG
A Ready Kit is a supply of items that you will need if you should have to shelter in place, or rely on your own resources for a few days. A Go Bag has fewer items, but they are the most essential items to take with you in case you must evacuate quickly.
See the NOD guide, “Prepare Yourself: Disaster Readiness Tips for People with Disabilities,” for a list of suggested supplies.
Here are a few items of particular interest to people with sensory disabilities:
- Pad of paper with pens or pencils for writing notes
- Extra batteries for tape recorders, portable TTYs, etc.
- Extra pair of dark glasses, if medically required
- Folding mobility cane
- Hearing aid batteries
- Food, medicine, and favorite toy for your service animal
- Plastic bags, disposable gloves, and other items for the animal’s care
- Your medical records and those of your service animal
WHERE TO FIND MORE INFORMATION
Many of these agencies provide materials in large font, audio or video cassette formats, and different languages.
National Organization on Disability/EmergencyPreparedness Initiative
Easter Seals (s.a.f.e.t.y. First program)
Humane Society of the U.S. (Disaster Center)
National Association of the Deaf
NOAA Weather Radio
United States Access Board
U.S. Department of Homeland Security