People with disabilities and special needs

Emergencies can occur suddenly and without any advance warning. Although Ontario has effective emergency management legislation and programs, individuals and families play a vital role in preparing for times of crisis when emergency services and other government resources may be strained. It is important that individuals and families prepare to be self reliant for at least three days immediately after or during an emergency. The links below provide special emergency preparedness considerations and advice for the estimated 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities and/or special needs, including seniors with special needs.

Emergency Preparedness Guide

Prepare now

Emergency preparedness includes developing and practising a family emergency response plan and the preparation of an emergency survival kit.

For those living with a physical, visual, auditory and/or other non-visible disability, emergency preparedness should also involve incorporating special accommodations into their family emergency response plan.

To best prepare for an emergency according to one’s special needs, please refer to the appropriate category for a list of suggested emergency survival kit items and contingency planning considerations.

Hearing

A person can be deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. The distinction between these terms is based on the individual’s language and means of communicating rather than the degree of hearing loss. In an emergency, the method in which emergency warnings are issued becomes critical to how a person with hearing loss is able to respond and follow instructions to safety.

Your emergency plan 

  • If members of your network are unavailable during an emergency, seek out the help of others. To let them know you cannot hear, move your lips
    without making a sound and point to your ear or hearing aid.
  • Keep a pencil and paper handy for written communication.
  • Obtain a pager that is connected to the paging system at your workplace and/or the building that you live in.
  • Install a smoke-detection system that includes smoke alarms and accessory flashing strobe lights and/or vibrations to gain your attention if the
    alarms sound.
  • Test smoke alarms on a monthly basis by pushing the test button.
  • Replace batteries in battery-operated smoke alarms every six months and whenever the low-battery warning signals.
  • Keep a laminated card on your person and in your survival kit that identifies you as deaf or hard-of hearing and explains how to communicate with you.

Dos and don’ts 

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Get the person’s attention via a visual cue or a gentle touch on their arm before speaking to them.
  • Face the person and make eye contact when speaking to them as they may rely on speech reading.
  • Communicate in close proximity.
  • Speak clearly and naturally.
  • Use gestures to help explain the meaning of what you are trying to communicate to the person.
  • Write a message if there is time.
  • Avoid approaching the person from behind.
  • Refrain from shouting or speaking unnaturally slow.
  • Do not make loud noises as hearing aids amplify sounds and can create a physical shock to the user.

Additional items 

Emergency survival kit

  • Extra writing pads and pencils for communication.
  • Flashlight, whistle or noisemaker.
  • Pre-printed key phrases you would use during and emergency.
  • Assistive devices unique to your needs (e.g. hearing aids, pager, personal amplifier, etc.).
  • Portable visual notification devices that allow you to know if a person is knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, or calling
    on the telephone.
  • Extra batteries for assistive devices.
  • A CommuniCard (produced by the Canadian Hearing Society) that explains your hearing loss and also helps identify how rescuers or assisters can communicate with you during an emergency.
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your special needs.

Note: Typically people who are deafened or hard of hearing will need information presented in a text format.

Questions? 

Call 519-822-1260 x 2127 or send a message to [email protected]

Hearing brochure in PDF format

Vision

Vision loss can include a broad range of conditions ranging from complete blindness to partial or low vision that cannot be corrected with lenses or surgery. A person’s ability to read signs or move through unfamiliar environments during an emergency may be challenged, creating a feeling of being lost and/or being dependent on others for guidance.

Your emergency plan

  • Have a long cane available to readily manoeuvre around debris on the floor or furniture that may have shifted after an emergency.
  • Mark all emergency supplies in advance with fluorescent tape, large print or in Braille.
  • Mark gas, water and electric shutoff valves in advance with fluorescent tape, large print or in Braille.
  • Familiarize yourself in advance with all escape routes and locations of emergency doors/exits on each floor of any building where you work, live and/or visit.

Dos and don’ts

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Always ask first if you can be of any assistance to them.
  • For people who are deaf-blind, use your finger to draw an “x” on their back to let them know you are there to help during an emergency.
  • To guide the person, offer them your arm instead of taking theirs and walk at their pace. Keep a half a step ahead of them.
  • Provide advance warning of upcoming stairs, curbs, major obstacles or changes in direction.
  • Watch for overhangs or protrusions the person could walk into.
  • To communicate with a deaf-blind person, try tracing letters with your finger on the palm of their hand.
  • If the person has a service dog, ask them where you should walk to avoid distracting the animal.
  • Do not touch, make eye contact or distract the person’s service dog as this can seriously endanger the owner.
  • Do not assume the person cannot see you, or that they need your help.
  • Never grab or touch a person with vision loss.
  • Do not shout at a person with vision loss. Speak clearly and provide specific and precise directions.
  • Avoid the term “over there”. Instead, describe locating positions such as, “to your right/left/straight ahead/behind you”, or by relaying clock face positions, such as two o’clock.

Additional items

Emergency survival kit

  • Extra white cane, preferably a cane that is longer in length.
  • Large-print timepiece, such as a talking or Braille clock, with extra batteries.
  • Extra vision aids such as an electronic travel aid, monocular, binocular or magnifier.
  • Extra pair of prescription glasses – if you wear them.
  • Any reading devices/assisstive technology to access information/portable CCTV devices.
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your special needs.

EPD Brochure Vision

Mobility

Mobility limitations may make it difficult for a person to use stairs or to move quickly over long distances. These can include reliance on mobility devices such as a wheelchair, scooter, walker, crutches or a walking cane. In addition, people with a heart condition or various respiratory difficulties can experience certain levels of mobility limitations.

Your emergency plan

  • Ask members of your network to practice moving your special needs equipment during your emergency practice plan. This will help your network become more comfortable handling or using your special needs equipment during an emergency.
  • If you use a wheelchair or scooter, request that an emergency evacuation chair be stored near a stairwell on the same floor that you work or live on, so that your network can readily use it to help you safely evacuate the building.
  • In your instruction list for your network, identify areas of your body that have reduced sensation so these areas can be checked for injuries after an emergency, if you cannot check them yourself.

Dos and don’ts

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Use latex-free gloves when providing personal care whenever possible. (People with spinal cord injury have a greater risk of developing an infectious disease during an emergency. Gloves help control secondary medical conditions that can easily arise if personal care is disrupted during an emergency.)
  • Ensure that the person’s wheelchair goes with the person.
  • Do not push or pull a person’s wheelchair without their permission.

Additional items 

Emergency survival kit

  • Tire patch kit.
  • Can of seal-in-air product (to repair flat tires on you wheelchair or scooter).
  • Supply of inner tubes.
  • Pair of heavy gloves (to protect your hands while wheeling or making way over glass or other sharp debris).
  • Latex-free gloves (for anyone providing personal care for you).
  • Spare deep-cycle battery for motorized wheelchair or scooter.
  • A lightweight manual wheelchair for backup to a motorized wheelchair (if feasible).
  • Spare catheters (if applicable).
  • An emergency backup plan that will ensure any life sustaining equipment/apparatus is operable on the event of a power outage.
  • Supply of food items appropriate to your disability or dietary restrictions.
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your special needs.

Mobility brochure in PDF format

Highrise

Highrise buildings present unique challenges when evacuation is necessary during an emergency. Residents should make themselves aware of:

  • Building superintendent’s name and phone number.
  • Who sits on the buildings safety committee.
  • Who the floor monitors are.
  • Who conducts evacuation drills, and how often.
  • Location of fire extinguisher, automated external defibrillator units, and oxygen tank.
  • Location of emergency evacuation device(s).

Your emergency plan

  • Advise your building manager/superintendent of your special needs and/or requirements during an emergency.
  • Familiarize yourself with your building’s evacuation plan.
  • Know where all escape routes and locations of emergency doors/exits are on each floor.
  • Know the location of emergency buttons in the building and exits that are wheelchair accessible
    (if applicable).
  • Request that an emergency evacuation chair be installed on the floor you live or work on, preferably close to the stairwell (if applicable).
  • If you live in a highrise building, create a ‘buddy’ system with your neighbours and regularly practice your emergency response plan with them.
  • If you rely on any life sustaining equipment/apparatus, develop an emergency back-up plan that will ensure the equipment/apparatus is operable in the event of a power outage.
  • Obtain large painted signs from the building manager that you can place in your window in the event of an emergency, indicating that you need assistance.

Dos and don’ts 

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Check on neighbours and/or co-workers with special needs to find out if they need your help during an emergency or evacuation.
  • Listen actively to what the individual with special needs is saying.
  • During an emergency evacuation (if time permits), offer to carry the person’s emergency survival kit for them along with any special equipment or assistive devices they will need.
  • In general, avoid attempts to lift, support or assist in moving a person down the stairs, unless you are familiar with safe techniques.

Additional items

Emergency survival kit

  • Personal alarms that emit a loud noise to draw attention to your whereabouts.
  • Supply of food items appropriate to your dietary restrictions.
  • Supply of plastic bags for storing garbage/personal waste.
  • Names and contact information of your neighbours, superintendent and your property/building manager.
  • Laminated copy of your building’s evacuation plan and diagram of escape routes and location of emergency doors/exits on each floor.
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your special needs.

Highrise Safety brochure in PDF format

Non-visible disabilities

Non-visible disabilities can include communication, cognitive, sensory, mental health, learning or intellectual disabilities in which an individual’s ability to respond to an emergency is restricted. They can also range from allergies, epilepsy, hemophilia, diabetes, thyroid condition, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary or heart disease and/or dependency on dialysis, sanitary or urinary supplies. Individuals with non-visible disabilities may have difficulty performing some tasks without appearing to have a disability.

Your emergency plan

  • Prepare an easy-to-understand list of instructions or information for yourself that you think you may need in an emergency.
  • Keep an emergency contact list on your person of key people that are aware of your special needs.
  • Inform your designated support network of where you store your medication.
  • Keep a pencil and paper or portable electronic recording device handy to write down or record any new instructions provided to you in an emergency.
  • Consider owning and wearing a MedicAlert® bracelet or identification because it will help notify emergency responders about your non-visible disabilities. For more information visit:www.medicalert.ca.
  • Request a panic push-button to be installed in the building you work and/or live in, so that in the event of an emergency you can notify others of your whereabouts and that you need special assistance.
  • People with multiple sclerosis: Symptoms are often made worse by heat and humidity. Be prepared to keep cool and dry.
  • People with diabetes: Keep frozen water bottles or ice packs in your freezer. Have an insulated bag or cooled thermos ready to store you insulin, should there be a power outage or you need to evacuate.

Dos and don’ts

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Allow the person to describe what help they need from you.
  • Find effective means of communication (e.g. providing drawn or written instructions. When giving direction use landmarks instead of terms “go left” or “turn right”).
  • Be patient, flexible and maintain eye contact when speaking to the person.
  • Ask the person about their medication and if they need any help taking it. (Never offer medicines not prescribed by their physician.)
  • Keep people with multiple sclerosis cool and dry to avoid making their symptoms worse.
  • Avoid shouting or speaking quickly. Instead, speak clearly but not so slowly as to offend the person.
  • Do not restrain a person having a convulsion. Instead, roll them on their side to keep their airway clear and place something soft (e.g. your jacket) under their head to protect it from injury. Once the convulsion passes and they become conscious, help them into a resting position.

Additional items

Emergency survival kit

  • Supply of food items appropriate to your disability or dietary restrictions.
  • List of instructions that you can easily follow in an emergency.
  • Personal list and minimum three days supply of needed medications, medial supplies and special equipment (e.g. ventilator for asthma, nitrolingual spray for heart condition, Epinephrine pen for allergic reaction/anaphylactic shock, etc.).
  • Detailed list of all prescription medications.
  • MedicAlert® identification.
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your special needs.

Non-visible disabilities brochure in PDF format

Seniors and seniors with special needs

Since an emergency situation or an evacuation can be a frightening and confusing time, it’s important that seniors, especially those with special needs, know the steps to take in an emergency situation. This includes seniors contacting the Evergreen Seniors Centre at 519-823-1291 to find out about programs and services available in their community that will help them during an emergency and help them return to their regular routine.

Your emergency plan

  • Create an emergency contact list with names and telephone numbers of your family members, physicians, case worker, contact for your seniors groups, neighbours, building superintendent, etc. Keep a copy of this list in your survival kit and on your person.
  • Write down the names and phone numbers of on-site doctors, nurses, social workers, etc., at your place of residence (if applicable), including the hours they keep.
  • Familiarize yourself with all escape routes and locations of emergency doors/exits in your home.
  • Know the location of emergency buttons. Many seniors’ buildings have emergency buttons located in bedrooms and washrooms, which have a direct link to 911 or the building’s superintendent.
  • If asked to evacuate, bring with you any equipment or assistive devices you may need immediately.
  • Always wear your MedicAlert® identification.

Dos and don’ts 

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Check on neighbours who are seniors with special needs to find out if they need your help during an emergency or evacuation.
  • Allow the person to describe what help they needs and how it can be provided to them.
  • Be patient, listen actively.
  • If the person appears anxious or agitated, speak calmly and provide assurance that you are there to help.
  • If evacuation is necessary, offer a ride to seniors who do not have access to a vehicle.
  • If time permits, offer to carry the person’s emergency survival kit to your car, along with any equipment or assistive devices they will need.
  • Follow instructions posted on special needs equipment and/or assistive devices during an emergency.
  • Refrain from shouting or speaking unnaturally slowly.
  • Avoid being dismissive of the person’s concerns or requests.

Additional items 

Emergency survival kit

  • Supply of food items appropriate to your disability or dietary restrictions.
  • Assistive devices needed such as canes, walkers, lightweight manual wheelchair, hearing aids, breathing apparatus, blood glucose monitoring devices, etc.
  • Prescription eyewear and footwear (if required).
  • Extra batteries for hearing aides (if required).
  • Extra supply of medications and vitamin supplements.
  • Personal disability-related list of all your needed medical supplies and special equipment.
  • Copies of all medication prescriptions.
  • Extra dentures (if required) and cleaner.
  • Latex-free gloves (to give to anyone providing personal care to you).
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your special needs.

Seniors brochure in PDF format

Travel considerations for individuals with special needs/disabilities

Whether travelling locally or internationally, people with disabilities and seniors with special needs should take extra time to research and plan their trip to make their travel experience safe and enjoyable. This includes preparing in advance an emergency plan and “Ready-Go-Bag” with emergency survival items.

Your emergency plan

  • Before travelling, visit the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website where you can register and find other helpful travel information safety tips.
  • Discuss your particular accommodation needs with your travel agent.
  • Discuss your trip with your doctor to prepare for an unforeseen illness.
  • Obtain necessary travel medical insurance.
  • Carry a copy of the booklet Bon Voyage, But…, that contains contact information for destination’s Canadian office and Emergency Operations Centre. You can order it free at www.voyage.gc.ca.
  • Divide your medications and medical supplies between your carry-on and check-in baggage, keeping them in their original labelled containers. Bring copies of your prescriptions with you.
  • Always wear your MedicAlert® bracelet.
  • Inform your travel companion(s) on how to assist you in a case of emergency.
  • If travelling alone, establish a network (e.g. hotel staff) that can assist you during an emergency.
  • If you have difficulty using stairs request a room on a lower floor.
  • Review the hotel emergency exit plan.
  • If there is an evacuation, bring your emergency “Ready-Go-Bag” and any assistive services you may need.

Dos and don’ts 

Assisting people with disabilities

  • Check on fellow travellers with visible disabilities or special needs to find out of they need you help during an emergency or evacuation.
  • Listen actively to what the individual with special needs is saying and how they might need your help.
  • If they speak in a foreign language that you don’t understand, try to communicate using gestures.
  • During an emergency evacuation (if time permits), offer to carry the person’s emergency survival kit for them with any special equipment or assistive devices they will need.
  • Don’t let the person be separated from their wheelchair or mobility aids.

Additional items 

Emergency survival kit

  • Supply of food items appropriate to your dietary restrictions.
  • Supply of medications/assistive devices appropriate to your disability (e.g. Glucagon injection if you manage your diabetes with insulin and you are travelling to a remote location that does not have ambulance service).
  • Laminated personal information card that you keep on your person at all times when travelling. The card identifies your special needs, lists all medications you are taking, any food/ drug allergies you might have, your treating physician’s name and contact information, and your next of kin.
  • Copy of your travel medical insurance and other important travel documents.
  • A personal alarm that emits a loud noise to draw attention to your whereabouts.
  • Small container that can store or disintegrate syringes or needles safely (if applicable).
  • Anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea pills and pain medication.
  • Sunblock.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Dictionary to help you communicate in a foreign language.
  • Any other emergency supplies unique to your disability or special needs.

The information above has been drawn from the Emergency Preparedness Guide for People with Disabilities/Special Needs, prepared by Emergency Management Ontario and has been reproduced with their permission.