Individuals with Disabilities
One in four adults in the U.S. have a disability that affects major life activities; that is about 61 million people in the U.S. One in seven adults are affected by mobility; this is the most common disability. A mobility disability is defined as a disability that can affect movement ranging from fine motor movement, such as using the hands to grasp and move objects, to gross motor skills, such as walking. A mobility disability become more common with age, about two in five adults aged 65 and older are affected by this disability. There are various types of disabilities and they include but are not limited to: hearing, vision, speech, mobility, cognitive, intellectual, and mental impairment.1 As defined by Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a disabled person is someone who “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a history of a physical or mental impairment, or is perceived by others to have such impairment.”2
Guidance from the ADA requires all governments to ensure that communications with people with disabilities are as easy to understand as for the rest of the population.
Effective Communication Tips for People with Disabilities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Access and Functional Needs Toolkit Integrating a Community Partner Network to Inform Risk Communication Strategies:1
- Include American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for televised emergency announcements.
- Provide accessible emergency notification systems and evacuation maps for all persons.
- Ensure on-line emergency info is accessible to screen readers, used by people who are blind or who have low vision.
- Use clear, simple language that is understood by people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and people with limited English proficiency.
- Upgrade 911 systems to allow people with disabilities to use text-based communications.
Standard Disability Questions for Population Surveys:1
- Six survey questions are considered the minimum standard to assess disability. These questions are also available on CDC’s Disability and Health Promotion website:
- Are you deaf, or do you have serious difficulty hearing?
- Are you blind, or do you have serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses?
- Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, do you have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions? (5 years old or older)
- Do you have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs? (5 years old or older)
- Do you have difficulty dressing or bathing? (5 years old or older)
- Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, do you have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping? (15 years old or older)
Website Accessibility Tips:1
- The U.S. Access Board provides technical assistance regarding Section 508 standards and how to make webpages accessible to people with disabilities.
- Placing “alt tags” on graphics, using accessible online forms and tables, and posting documents created in accessible text-based formats are some key features.
The table below is FEMA’s Language Guidelines for Inclusive Emergency Preparedness, Response, Mitigation, and Recovery. It gives preferred language with referring to people with access and functional needs and disabilities.
Special communication, special needs communication
Accessible communication, effective communication
Vulnerable populations, special populations, at-risk populations
Disproportionately affected, access and functional needs
Special access, handicapped access
Equal access, universal access, effective communication access
Suffers from a disability
Has a disability
Mobility impaired, physically challenged, crippled, differently abled, bedridden, house-bound or shut-in, invalid
Has a mobility disability
The blind, sight impaired, vision impaired
Is blind, has low vision
People with a cognitive disability, a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
Emotionally disturbed, disturbed
Has a mental illness, mental health support, psychiatric disability; has a diagnosis of schizophrenia; uses behavioral health services
Unable to speak or uses synthetic speech
People without a disability
Handicapped equipment, special devices
Assistive devices, assistive technology, durable medical equipment
Special needs planning, special plans, special needs annex
Whole community planning, inclusive planning, integrated planning
Noteworthy Practice from New York City Emergency Management from CDC’s Access and Functional Needs Toolkit Integrating a Community Partner Network to Inform Risk Communication Strategies:1
- New York City Emergency Management offers tips for people with disabilities or access and functional needs on how to create a plan and be prepared for emergencies.
- Take Steps to Prepare:
- Provide your emergency contacts a spare key so they can get in your building.
- Make copies of important documents, including health information.
- If you have a pet, or emotional support or service animal, be alert and plan for his or her needs. During an emergency, pets, including emotional support and service animals, can become stressed.
- Consider your dietary needs and always stock nonperishable food at home in case you must shelter in place during an emergency.
- If you take medication, make a list of the medications you take, why you take them, and their dosages.
- If you receive dialysis, chemotherapy, or other life-sustaining treatment, locate back-up locations so your service is not interrupted.
- If you or anyone in your home depends on electrically powered life-sustaining medical equipment (such as a ventilator or cardiac device), received dialysis, or has limited mobility, you can take specific steps to prepare for an emergency.
Resources for Individuals with Disabilities
- A Guide for Including People with Disabilities in Disaster Preparedness Planning
- The guide is developed by Connecticut Developmental Disabilities Network which is a partnership of Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities, The University of Connecticut A.J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence In Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service, and Office of Protection & Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.
- Connections for Adults
- Department of Developmental Services has a service, Connections for Adults, with a list of organizations that can help supports adults who have disabilities.
- Resources for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- The Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security has resources for the deaf and hard of hearing. These resources can also be used for other access and functional needs.
- Resources for You and Your Community – National Association of the Deaf
- The National Association of the Deaf has a list of resources not only for the people who are deaf or hard of hearing but those with other access and functional needs.
- Disaster Safety for People with Disabilities
- The American Red Cross gives tips and tricks on what to do for people with disabilities during an emergency or disaster.
- Individuals with Disabilities – Ready.gov
- Ready.gov gives guidance on how to plan for emergencies and disasters for those with access and functional needs.
- Disability and Health Emergency Preparedness
- The CDC webpage on disability and health emergency preparedness has monitoring and assessment tools and other resources for people who are caring or may come into contact with people with disabilities.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). Access and Functional Needs Toolkit: Integrating a Community Partner Network to Inform Risk Communication Strategies. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
2 Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (1991). Pub. L. No. 101-336, § 2, 104 Stat. 328.