How to assist people with disabilities in a disaster

People with disabilities who are self-sufficient under normal circumstances may have to rely on the help of others in a disaster.

Provide Assistance

Do you know someone with a disability?

  • People with disabilities often need more time than others to make necessary preparations in an emergency.
  • The needs of older people often are similar to those of persons with disabilities.
  • Because disaster warnings are often given by audible means such as sirens and radio announcements, people who are deaf or hard of hearing may not receive early disaster warnings and emergency instructions. Offer to be their source of emergency information as it comes over the radio or television.
  • Some people who are blind or visually-impaired, especially older people, can be extremely reluctant to leave a familiar surroundings when the request for evacuation comes from a stranger.
  • A guide dog could become confused or disoriented in a disaster. People who are blind or partially sighted may have to depend on others to lead them, as well as their dog, to safety during a disaster.
  • In most states, guide dogs will be allowed to stay in emergency shelters with owners. Check with your local emergency management officials for more information.
  • People with impaired mobility are often concerned about being dropped when being lifted or carried. Find out the proper way to transfer or move someone in a wheelchair and what exit routes from buildings are best.
  • Some people with mental retardation may be unable to understand the emergency and could become disoriented or confused about the proper way to react.
  • Many respiratory illnesses can be aggravated by stress. In an emergency, oxygen and respiratory equipment may not be readily available.
  • People with epilepsy, parkinson's disease and other conditions often have very individualized medication regime's that cannot be interrupted without serious consequences. Some may be unable to communicate this information in an emergency.

Be ready to offer assistance if disaster strikes

If a disaster warning is issued, check with neighbors or coworkers who are disabled. Offer assistance whenever possible.

  • Prepare an emergency plan.

    Work with neighbors who are disabled to prepare an emergency response plan. Identify how you will contact each other and what action will be taken.

  • Evacuation.

    Be able to assist if an evacuation order is issued.

  • Provide physical assistance in leaving the home/office and transferring to a vehicle.

    Provide transportation to a shelter. This may require a specialized vehicle designed to carry a wheelchair or other mobility equipment.

  • Self-Help Networks

    Self-help networks are arrangements of people who agree to assist an individual with a disability in an emergency. Discuss with the relative, friend or co-worker who has a disability what assistance he or she may need. Urge the person to keep a disaster supplies kit and suggest that you keep an extra copy of the list of special items such as medicines or special equipment that the person has prepared. Talk with the person about how to inform him or her of an oncoming disaster and see about getting a key to the person's house so you can provide assistance without delay.

(Information for this article was obtained from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.)

Are You Ready for a Disaster?

The US Department of Homeland Security has launched a website to help people prepare for disasters. The Ready Campaign website,, helps people get started by taking three simple steps: Get a Kit; Make a Plan; and Be Informed. The site also features video demonstrations. Individuals can call 800-BE-READY for more information.


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