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Planning for Access and Functional Needs

Learn more about how to work effectively with community members with access and functional needs before and after a disaster.

Disasters, large and small, present a challenge to meeting the needs of people with access and functional needs. The needs of individuals with access and functional needs can greatly vary from community to community due to the number, type, and severity of their needs. However, there are some universal considerations that emergency responders and officials should consider adopting, as circumstances and resources allow, to help make sure all segments of the community are appropriately served during disaster planning and in post-disaster stages.

Before A Disaster

Communications planning

  • Make pre-printed literature available in large print and describe all essential graphics in text.
  • Draft announcements, warnings, and instructions that will be broadcast with awareness that many people with cognitive impairments need clear, concrete information about the nature of any risks, specific areas affected, and the steps they need to take.
  • Employ qualified interpreter services.
  • Make emergency messaging available in languages prevalent in the area and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print, and captioning. Review and update websites used to provide information.
  • Provide auxiliary aids to communication such as Braille, text-based telecommunications equipment, hearing aid-compatible telephones, or interpreters.

Community outreach and education

  • Encourage people with access and functional needs to make personal preparedness plans that take into account their unique set of circumstances.
  • Utilize media campaigns, presentations to community organizations, information booths at health fairs, and direct mailings to raise awareness among people with disabilities.
  • Partner with local or regional disability organizations.

During a Disaster

The methods of interacting or communicating with individuals with access or functional needs are dependent on the needs they have. Listed below are a few things to keep in mind when working with someone who has a specific type of disability.

Person who has a hearing disability:

  • Get the attention of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing by tapping the person on the arm, waving your hand, or, while in a large group, flickering the lights.
  • Show consideration by placing yourself under or near a light source and keeping your hands and food away from your mouth when speaking. Shouting will not help.
  • Offer the person a means of exchanging written messages.

Person who has a vision disability:

Greet the person verbally to let them know that you have approached them.

  • Ask first if they need assistance and offer your arm as a guide just above the elbow while describing any obstacles in the path of travel.
  • If the person has a guide dog, walk on the side opposite the dog and do not touch or distract the dog at any time.

Person who has a speech disability:

  • Listen attentively.
  • Exercise patience rather than attempting to speak for a person with a speech disability.
  • When necessary, ask short questions that require short answers or a nod or a shake of the head.

Person who has a mobility disability:

  • When talking at length to a person who uses a wheelchair or crutches, sit in a chair, whenever possible.
  • Do not touch or operate the equipment without the owner’s prior consent or instructions.
  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands.
  • People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands.

Person with an intellectual or developmental disability:

  • Speak directly to the person and respect his or her expressed preferences as to choices or decisions.
  • Consider moving to a quiet or private location if you are in a public area with many distractions.
  • Offer help completing forms, understanding written instructions, and provide extra time for decision-making.

Person with a non-apparent disability:

  • Be cautious about interpreting behavior.
  • Allow extra time for the person to process what you are saying and to respond.

Resources and Tip Sheets

The following collection of resources will help guide you in disaster planning and communication:

  1. Connecticut Developmental Disabilities Network guide—A Guide for Including People with Disabilities in Disaster Preparedness Planning (PDF | 1.4 MB)
  2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guide—ADA Checklist for Emergency Shelters
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide—Planning for an Emergency: Strategies for Identifying and Engaging At-Risk Groups (PDF | 12.5 MB)
  4. Department of Labor guide—Communicating With and About People with Disabilities
  5. Department of Homeland Security guide—A Guide to Interacting with People who have Disabilities (PDF | 309 KB)
  6. Federal Emergency Management Agency guide—Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services in General Population Shelters (PDF | 7.5 KB)
  7. National Fire Protection Association guide—Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities (PDF | 1.5 MB, DOC 2.4 MB)
Last Updated: 04/05/2019