Communication with Persons with Disabilities in an Emergency or Disaster


Whether a person’s disability affects their hearing, sight, voice, or ability to fully comprehend, there are hindrances for them to effectively plan or respond to an emergency situation or disaster. Because communication is key, the disabled are more likely to have unfavorable outcomes during an emergency situation.

As an agency which serves individuals with all types of disabilities, Opengate has a comprehensive disaster plan which covers every detail of any type of emergency. Our plan includes policies and procedures for sheltering or evacuation, as well as specific supply lists, notifications, and responses. Knowledge of the plan and how to carry out all of its procedures is a requirement of our staff.

A recent report from the National Council on Disability states that emergency communications remain largely inaccessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, while television, radio and the internet play an integral part in disseminating emergency information to the public at large, much of the information, and the way it’s interpreted, is often inaccurate for those with disabilities.

Opengate’s staff is routinely trained on proper notification methods to ensure that residents and their families are correctly updated. As soon as an emergency or disaster strikes this notification operation is activated and information is disseminated accordingly.

Although there are inherent barriers to effective emergency communications for persons with disabilities, Opengate’s system addresses each one for the benefit of our residents and their families.

While it’s a huge demand to prepare for emergencies or disasters, individuals with disabilities and their direct service providers at Opengate have a plan in place to address when an emergency strikes that includes:

A support system of all staff members and medical personnel

•Noted emergency communications tools and technology that are available and accessible.

•Knowledge on how to communicate lifesaving information specific to one’s disability.

•An emergency plan including supplies of food and water, special medications, medical records, equipment, and any other special needs.

A great deal of the burden to promote accessibility to emergency communications and the resulting responses falls to local first responders and assistance organizations. First responders and emergency personnel must be knowledgeable on how to best get information from an individual who may, or may not, have a disability.

By inquiring first about the type of assistance a person needs allows that person to choose whether to identify their disability or not. They may have encountered discrimination or stigma in past experiences, but this simple gesture will help ease their fears. Emergency personnel should also be trained, or have people at resources nearby, that can communicate with the person whose disability has been identified.

Our relationships with local disaster preparation agencies, as well as first responders, is important for each residence location. Our plans are filed with the county and in the event of a disaster our coordinated efforts will insure the safety of each of our consumers.

Refer to the complete 2014 NCD report, Effective Communications for People with Disabilities: Before, During, and After Emergencies.

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