Persons with disabilities or functional needs are an important consideration when creating your Emergency Action Playbook. Individuals with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, mental retardation, autism, hearing impairment, visual impairment, individuals in wheelchairs, those with limited English proficiency, and persons with other physical, sensory, cognitive, or intellectual disabilities need to be taken in to account when planning for emergencies and disasters.
Typical emergency plans assume that most individuals are able-bodied, can walk independently, can use stairs independently, and can follow directions appropriately. With assumptions like these, individuals who cannot perform one or more of these tasks are left without a plan for what to do in an emergency. While most buildings and spaces have access measures for persons with physical disabilities (e.g., wheelchair ramps), the same is not necessarily true for individuals with sensory or processing disorders. While it may be possible for individuals with various disabilities to function in the workplace or a school on a day-to-day basis, we should not assume that the same holds for emergency situations.
A few suggestions:
- Include disabled individuals in the creation of your emergency plan
- Ask your disabled employees or students what accommodations they might need in an emergency situation
- Set up a buddy system if necessary
- Practice your emergency operations, taking note of individuals with special needs to determine which procedures need adjusting
- Practice your emergency operations over and over until all of the kinks have been worked out for those individuals with special needs
There are some online resources that give more detailed ideas about involving individuals with disabilities in emergency planning. Here at Invictus Consulting we are not experts on individuals with disabilities or legislation regarding such persons, although we do have personal experience on this front and know the value in including special needs persons in your emergency plans. The links below will point you to tips and ideas but should not be considered templates for use by your school, business, or organization; rather they should be viewed as a jumping off point for adjusting your own emergency operations plan to include individuals with special needs.