D.U.D. (Disability- The Unseen Disaster) comprises of the following: 

Disability intersects every demographic group—there are people with disabilities of all ages, races, genders or national origin. And, disabilities can impact a person in a variety of ways—both visible and invisible. For people with disabilities and their families, it is important to consider individual circumstances and needs to effectively prepare for emergencies and disasters. We call it an unseen disaster due to the fact that there’s so much that goes with it which is beyond what can actually be seen, or understood. One can feel it only if they’ve actually gone thru all that.

Who Are “People with Disabilities”? 

The term “people with disabilities” covers a broad spectrum of human experience and individual circumstances. So many different types, levels and combinations of physical, cognitive, sensory and mental conditions fall under the general umbrella of “disability” that the term, by itself, gives little useful information about the specific needs of any particular individual to whom it is applied. 

  • Disability preparedness

It is important that emergency services personnel, relief workers, incident managers and government leaders cultivate an understanding of the diverse identities and needs of people with disabilities. No single strategy for outreach, planning, communication, evacuation, or shelter will work for everyone. Planners, trainers, and responders must be mindful of the wide variety of needs and issues for people with disabilities.

The key concerns have been organized into the following chapters: 

1. Outreach: Identification and Education 

2. Planning with the Disability Community 

3. Communication Strategies 

4. Evacuation 

5. Shelter

Key Questions for Planners are:

1. How will you reach out to people with a variety of disabilities in your community? Including people with disabilities starts by developing effective outreach strategies. Individuals, families and provider agencies need to be identified, educated and encouraged to prepare their own plans. Municipal and regional planners need to listen to people explain their needs, network with disability groups, and develop relevant preparedness plans. Both the disability world and the emergency preparedness world need to learn each other’s language. To encourage collaboration and competent emergency responses, planners must make conscious efforts to communicate in formats that are accessible to people with a variety of communication styles and needs, and to hold meetings in accessible locations. 

2. How will you ensure that people with disabilities have a voice in community preparedness planning? The best way to ensure that community preparedness plans are relevant for people with disabilities and their families is to involve them in planning, drills, training, site visits and feedback. Inviting participation can mean anything from encouraging people with disabilities to volunteer for Red Cross training to including disability groups in discussions about expansion of reverse 9-1-1 systems. People with disabilities, family members, advocacy groups and provider organizations can also help evaluate the accessibility of facilities, vehicles, and communications. The motto adopted by disability rights activists is especially important to emergency preparedness: “Nothing about us without us.” 

3. What do you need to know in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities during an emergency? Experience teaches that while planning is critically important, it is only part of the equation. Situational realities often demand flexibility and accommodation beyond what is envisioned in even the best emergency plans. This means that leaders and responders must be trained and well informed about a variety of disability issues, and that networks with disability groups must be established (and working) prior to an actual emergency. One of the benefits of energetic outreach and networking efforts will be positive working relationships with disability groups that can lend expertise in training responders, and help meet unexpected resource needs during an emergency. 

4. How will you evacuate everyone? Planners need to anticipate logistics and communications needs for both evacuation and “shelter in place” scenarios. Detailed, redundant communication strategies are critically important, especially to people who have communications disabilities (e.g. people who are deaf and hard of hearing, people with certain cognitive disabilities), and to people who live independently with assistance. Similarly, transportation planning needs to anticipate and accommodate the needs of people who depend on assistive devices for mobility and communications, service animals, or the help of family members, friends, or directly-employed aides. 

5. In an emergency, is there a place for everyone? To the maximum extent possible, shelter and support plans should include people with disabilities along with others in their community. In most cases, accommodating people with disabilities requires relatively small, simple modifications to policies and physical environments: providing a portable ramp, ensuring that announcements are affirmatively communicated to deaf and hard of hearing people; allowing aides and family members to evacuate and shelter along with a person. People with disabilities should not be routinely routed to health care environments or separated from essential equipment and other personal supports (e.g. service animals, friends, aides, family). Doing either greatly increases vulnerability and trauma, and may condemn a person to a lengthy, unnecessary period of institutionalization. 

  • Get Informed
  • Know what disasters could affect your area, which ones could call for an evacuation and when to shelter in place.
  • Keep a NOAA Weather Radio tuned to your local emergency station and monitor TV and radio. Follow mobile alerts and warnings about severe weather in your area.
  • Download the FEMA app and get weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five different locations anywhere in the United States.
  • Make a Plan

In the event of a disaster could you make it on your own for several days? After a disaster you may not have access to a medical facility or even a drugstore. It’s crucial to plan for your daily needs and know what you would do if they become limited or unavailable. Additional planning steps include:

Illustration of a boy in a wheelchair and his grandmother making an emergency supply kit.
  • Create a support network of people who can help you in a disaster. Keep a contact list in a watertight container in your emergency kit or on your electronic devices.
  • Inform your support network where you keep your emergency supplies. You may want to consider giving a trusted member a key to your house or apartment.
  • Plan ahead for accessible transportation that you may need for evacuation or getting around during or after disaster. Check with local transit providers as well as with your emergency management agency to identify appropriate accessible options.
  • Many city and county emergency management agencies maintain voluntary registries for people with disabilities to self-identify in order to receive targeted assistance during emergencies and disasters. Contact your local emergency management office to find out more.
  • If you are on dialysis or other life-sustaining medical treatment know the location and availability of more than one facility that can help you.
  • If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your doctor or health care provider about what you may be able to do to keep it running during a power outage. You can also ask your power provider to put you on a list for priority power restoration.
  • Wear medical alert tags or bracelets. Also add pertinent medical information to your electronic devices.
  • If you have a communication disability consider carrying printed cards or storing information on your devices to inform first responders and others how to communicate with you.
  • If you use assistive technologies, plan how you will evacuate with the devices or how you will replace equipment if lost or destroyed. 
  • Locate and access your electronic health records from a variety of sources by using the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ online tool
  • Plan for children and adults who may have difficulty in unfamiliar or chaotic environments. Consider your service or support animal or pets and plan for food, water and supplies. If you need to evacuate, you’ll need to know whether your shelter allows pets or not, since some shelters only allow service or support animals.
  • Keep a list of the nearest medical facilities, local hospitals and nearest transportation.
  • Build a Kit

In addition to having your basic survival supplies, an emergency kit should have items to meet your individual needs in various emergencies. Consider the items you use every day and which ones you may need to add to your kit.

Tips for People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Weather radio (with text display and a flashing alert)
  • Extra hearing-aid batteries
  • Pen and paper (in case you have to communicate with someone who does not know sign language)
  • Battery operated lantern to enable communication by sign language or lip reading, especially when the electricity is out and it’s dark.

Tips for People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision

  • Mark emergency supplies with Braille labels or large print. Keep a list of your emergency supplies and where you bought them on a portable flash drive or make an audio file that is kept in a safe place where you can access it.
  • Keep communication devices for your particular needs, such as a Braille or deaf-blind communications device as part of your emergency supply kit.

Tips for People with 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 it is lost or destroyed. Keep model information and note 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 pictogram.

Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities

  • Keep handheld electronic devices charged and loaded with videos and activities.
  • Purchase spare chargers for electronic devices and keep them charged.
  • Include sheets and twine or a small pop-up tent (to decrease visual stimulation in a busy room or to provide instant privacy).
  • Consider a pair of noise-canceling headphones to decrease auditory stimuli.
  • Have comfort snacks available.

Tips for People with a Mobility Disability

  • If you use a power wheelchair have a lightweight manual chair available as a backup if possible.
  • Show others how to assemble, disassemble and operate your wheelchair.
  • Purchase an extra battery for a power wheelchair or other battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices. If you can’t purchase an extra battery, find out what agencies, organizations or local charitable groups can help you buy one. Keep extra batteries charged 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.
  • Keep an extra mobility device such as a cane or walker if you use one.
  • Keep a portable air pump for wheelchair tires.
  • If you use a seat cushion to protect your skin or maintain your balance and you must evacuate, consider keeping an extra cushion on hand.
  • Communicate with neighbors who can assist you if you need to evacuate the building.

Tips for Individuals with Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia

  • Do not leave the person alone. Even those who aren’t prone to wandering away may do so in unfamiliar environments or situations.
  • If evacuating, help manage the change in environment by bringing a pillow and blanket or other comforting items they can hold onto.
  • When at a shelter, try to stay away from exits and choose a quiet corner.
  • If there is an episode of agitation, respond to the emotions being expressed. For example, say “You’re frightened and want to go home. It’s ok. I’m right here with you.”

Additional Items

  • Several days supply of prescription medicines
  • A list of all medications, dosage and any allergies
  • Extra eyeglasses, contacts, hearing aids and batteries
  • A backup supply of oxygen
  • A list of the style and serial number of medical devices (include special instructions for operating your equipment if needed)
  • Copies of insurance and Medicare cards
  • Contact information for doctors, relatives or friends who should be notified if you are hurt
  • Pet food, extra water, collar with ID tag, medical records and other supplies for your service or support animal
  • Implement an Evacuation Process 

Safe, effective evacuation by people with all types of disabilities should be a central objective of all plans. Issues such as transportation, personal assistance, service animals, and supplies and equipment are important to many people with various disabilities. Other evacuation concerns may be more specific to different disability types. Remember to consider the multiple formats for accessible communications when preparing evacuation communications. Evacuation personnel need to look for and assist people who need assistance reading signs, hearing instructions, and filling out forms. 

Responders must be trained on the importance of allowing individuals with disabilities to bring personal care assistants or family members, service animals and mobility, communications and medical devices with them. Provisions should be made to assure safe transport of mobility, communications and other assistive equipment. Policies need to reflect an understanding that these supports are not optional.

The rule should be that if a person says it is important for them to bring particular people, animals or equipment with them, they should be allowed to do so unless granting the request would likely result in imminent harm to the person or others.

  • Get Your Benefits Electronically

A disaster can disrupt mail service for days or weeks. If you depend on Social Security or other regular benefits, switching to electronic payments is an easy way to protect yourself financially before disaster strikes. It also eliminates the risk of stolen checks. The U.S. Department of the Treasury recommends two safer ways to get federal benefits:

  • Direct deposit to a checking or savings account. If you get federal benefits you can sign up by calling 800-333-1795 or sign up online.
  • The Direct Express® prepaid debit card is designed as a safe and easy alternative to paper checks. Call toll-free at 877-212-9991 or sign up online.