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People with disabilities frequently have additional needs and challenges when considering how to handle an emergency situation. In addition to the other information found on this website, the following topics may be useful when considering how to make a plan, considering how to make an emergency kit or determining how to handle an emergency evacuation.

The following are general guidelines for evacuation procedures for persons with disabilities. Faculty, staff, students and visitors who may need additional assistance should develop their own evacuation plans and identify their primary and secondary evacuation routes from each building they use. They should:

  • Be familiar with evacuation options.
  • Seek evacuation assistants who are willing to assist in case of an emergency.
  • Inform your instructor or supervisor that you would need assistance in an emergency. Discuss in advance on how they can best assist you.
  • Familiarize your support team with your schedule, how best to assist you, how to operate any necessary equipment.
During an evacuation, building occupants generally have two evacuation options:

Horizontal Evacuation
using building exits to the outside ground level. Some buildings may be connected to other buildings via ramps, tunnels, or bridges. If this is the case moving to an unaffected adjacent building may be another safe option.
Stairway Evacuation
using steps to move people from top or bottom floors to a floor that allows an individual to exit the building.

Individuals that are unable to use the two above options have the following options:

Stay in Place
unless danger is imminent, remaining in a room with an exterior window, a telephone, and a solid or fire-resistant door. With this approach, the person may keep in contact with emergency services by dialing 911 and reporting their location. The 911-communications will immediately relay this location to on-site emergency personnel. If in a room with an exterior window, the individual can signal from the window by waving or using another visible object.

The Stay in Place approach may be more appropriate for sprinkler protected buildings or buildings where an “area of refuge” is not nearby or available. It may also be more appropriate for an occupant who is alone when the alarm sounds.

Area of Refuge
If the building has designated “Area of Refuge,” go to an area of refuge away from obvious danger with an evacuation assistant. The evacuation assistant will then go to the building evacuation assembly point and notify the on-site emergency personnel of the person’s location. Usually, the safest areas of refuge are pressurized stair enclosures common to high-rise buildings, and open-air exit balconies. Once in the Area of Refuge, follow the Stay in Place guideline by calling 911 from a cell phone and provide them with your name and location. Know the buildings you frequent and create a plan for you.
Prior planning and practicing of emergency evacuation routes are important in assuring a safe evacuation.

Wheelchair User

Persons using wheelchairs should stay in place or move to an area of refuge with a self-identified evacuation assistant when the alarm sounds. The self-identified evacuation assistant should then proceed to the evacuation assembly point outside the building and tell the arriving emergency personnel of their location of the person location. If alone, he/she should call 911 with their location and the area of refuge to which they are headed.

If the stair landing is chosen as the area of refuge, please note that many campus buildings have relatively small stair landings and wheelchair users are advised to wait until the heavy traffic has passed before entering the stairway.

Trained emergency personnel should conduct stairway evacuation of wheelchair users. Only in situations of extreme danger should untrained people attempt to evacuate wheelchair users.  Moving a wheelchair downstairs is never safe.

Non-Wheelchair User – Other Physical Need

Persons with mobility impairments who can walk independently may be able to negotiate stairs in an emergency with minor assistance. If danger is imminent, the individual should wait until the heavy traffic has cleared before attempting the stairs. If there is no immediate danger (detectable smoke, fire, or unusual odor), the person with a mobility impairment may choose to stay in the building, using the other options, until the emergency personnel arrive and determine if evacuation is necessary. In this case, the person with a mobility impairment should call 911 to alert them to their location and request further information to ascertain the necessity of evacuation.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Some buildings on campus have fire alarms with strobe lights; however, many older buildings have only an audible alarm. Identify a method (such as short explicit written notes) that will alert you to evacuate and then share this method with your instructors, coworkers, and/or interpreters.

Vision Loss

Most people with low vision will be familiar with their immediate surroundings and frequently traveled routes. Since the emergency evacuation route is likely different from the commonly traveled route, persons who are blind or have low vision may need assistance in evacuating. The assistant should offer their elbow to the individual with low vision and guide him or her through the evacuation route. During the evacuation, the assistant should communicate as necessary to ensure safe evacuation.

Functional Needs

Those with functional needs under usual circumstances can function on their own or with support systems. However, during an emergency, their level of independence may be challenged. All standard building egress systems require the ability to process and understand information to safely evacuate. Plan to ask for assistance if you may need help from a friend or coworker in the buildings you frequent. Review and practice emergency evacuation procedures and understand how notifications will occur.

  • Ask how you can help before giving assistance.
  • Respect that the person with the disability has authority on how to be evacuated.
  • Offer help but let the person explain what help is needed.
  • Carrying a person is not advisable except in the most extreme of circumstances.
  • Once outside, direct the person to the Assembly Area designated for that building.

Wheelchair User

ASK the person in a wheelchair before providing help. Assist the individual in moving to safe Stay In Place or Area of Refuge location, and then inform emergency responders of their location. Stairway evacuation of wheelchair users should be conducted by trained professionals. Only in situations of extreme danger should anyone attempt to evacuate wheelchair users. Moving a wheelchair downstairs is never safe.

Non-Wheelchair User – Other Physical Need

A person using crutches, a cane, or walker can go downstairs, but may ask for your help. Encourage them to use the stair rail and walk behind the person to act as a buffer from others who may push forward from behind.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment by touch and eye contact. Clearly state the problem. Gestures and pointing are helpful but be prepared to write a brief statement if the person does not seem to understand.
  • Offer visual instructions to advise of safest route or direction by pointing toward exits or evacuation maps.

Vision Loss

People with a visual limitation are most familiar with their immediate surroundings and routes they use often. Give verbal instructions to advise about the safest route or direction using compass directions, estimated distances, and directional terms.

  • Do not grasp a visually impaired person’s arm. Ask if he or she would like to hold onto your arm as you exit, especially if there is debris or a crowd.
  • Give other verbal instructions or information (i.e. elevators cannot be used).

Functional Needs

Offer your elbow if physical assistance is needed to guide someone through an evacuation route. Listen and try to understand what the individual is saying and expressing. Speak in a calm and simple manner. During the evacuation, continue communicating as necessary to ensure safe evacuation. If someone is unable to evacuate, proceed to the evacuation assembly point outside the building and tell the arriving emergency personnel of the individual’s location and situation.

Additional Information

The aforementioned information is only a starting point for assisting those with disabilities during an evacuation. Students with questions or concerns are encouraged to have a conversation with Accessibility Resources & Service. Faculty and staff with questions or concerns are encouraged to have a conversation with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.

How might a disaster affect you? Could you make it on your own for at least three days? After a disaster you may not have access to a medical facility or even a drugstore. It’s crucial to plan for your regular needs and know what you would do if they become limited or unavailable. Additional planning steps should include:

  • Create a support network. Keep a contact list in a watertight container in your emergency kit.
  • Be ready to explain to first responders that you need to evacuate and choose to go to a shelter with your family, service animal, caregiver, personal assistant and your assistive technology devices and supplies.
  • Plan for accessible transportation that you may need for evacuation or getting to a medical clinic. Work with local services, public transportation, or paratransit to identify your local or private accessible transportation options.
  • Inform your support network where you keep your emergency supplies. You may want to consider giving one member a key to your house or apartment.
  • Contact your city or county government’s emergency management agency or office. Many local offices keep lists of people with disabilities so they can be helped quickly in a sudden emergency.
  • If you are dependent on dialysis or other life-sustaining treatment know the location and availability of more than one facility.
  • If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your doctor or health care provider about how you can prepare for its use during a power outage.
  • Wear medical alert tags or bracelets.
  • If you have a communication disability make sure your emergency information says the best way to communicate with you.
  • 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 lost or destroyed. Keep model numbers 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, pictures, or pictograms.
  • Keep Braille/text communication cards, if used, for two-way communication.
  • Get preparedness tips for diabetics.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ online tool helps people locate and access their electronic health records from a variety of sources.
  • Plan for children with disabilities and people who may have difficulty in unfamiliar or chaotic environments.
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 on a daily basis and which ones you may need to add to your kit.

Make sure to include the following in your kit:

  • A weather radio (with text display and a flashing alert)
  • Extra hearing-aid batteries
  • A TTY
  • Pen and paper (in case you have to communicate with someone who does not know sign language)
  • 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 a Braille or deaf-blind communications device as part of your emergency supply kit.
  • 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.
  • If you use a power wheelchair have a lightweight manual chair available as a backup if possible. Know the size and weight of your wheelchair in addition to whether or not it is collapsible, in case it has to be transported.
  • Show others how to 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 on a trickle charger 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.
  • If you use a seat cushion to protect your skin or maintain your balance and you must evacuate without your wheelchair, take your cushion with you.
Plan for children with disabilities and people who may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who may have difficulty in unfamiliar or chaotic environments. This may include:

  • Handheld electronic devices (loaded with movies and games)
  • Spare chargers
  • Sheets and twine or a small pop up tent (to decrease visual stimulation in a busy room or to provide instant privacy)
  • Headphones (to decrease auditory distractions)
  • Comfort snacks
  • Toys (to meet needs for stimulation)
Additional Items:

  • At least a week-long supply of prescription medicines
  • A list of all medications, dosage and any allergies
  • Extra eyeglasses
  • Extra hearing-aid batteries
  • Extra wheelchair batteries (or a manual wheelchair if possible)
  • Oxygen
  • A list of the style and serial number of medical devices (include special instructions for operating your equipment if needed)
  • Copies of medical 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 animal