Often individuals will require auxiliary aids and services or language access services to initiate effective communication and to receive and respond to information utilizing methods that facilitate effective communication. Individuals may not be able to hear verbal announcements or alerts, see directional signs, communicate their circumstances to emergency responders, or understand how to get assistance due to hearing, vision, cognitive, behavioral, mental health, or intellectual disabilities, and/or limited English proficiency. In addition to auxiliary aids and services, the use of plain language benefits most people.
While most individuals with access and functional needs do not have acute medical needs requiring the support of trained medical professionals, many will require assistance to maintain health and minimize preventable medical conditions. Access to equipment, medication, supplies, bathroom facilities, nutrition, hydration, adequate rest, personal assistance, etc. can make the difference between maintaining health and decompensation, requiring medical care. Additionally, keeping individuals with access and functional needs with their families, neighbors, and others who can provide assistance will reduce the need for first responders and medical professionals at a time of scarce resources. Minority and low-income communities may have severely limited access to health and medical services. Ensuring these communities’ access and functional needs are met is critical. Additionally, individuals, including those who are generally self-sufficient and those who have adequate support from personal assistants, family, or friends may need assistance with: managing unstable, terminal, or contagious conditions that require observation and ongoing treatment; managing intravenous therapy, tube feeding, and vital signs; receiving dialysis, oxygen, and suction administration; managing wounds; and operating power-dependent equipment to sustain life. These individuals may require support of trained medical professionals.
For individuals with access and functional needs, providing physical/architectural, programmatic, or communications access will allow them to maintain independence in an environment outside their home. For individuals requiring assistance to maintain independence in their daily activities, this assistance may be unavailable during an emergency or a disaster. Such assistance may include durable medical equipment or other assistive devices (wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, communication devices, transfer equipment, etc.), service animals, and/or personal assistance service providers or caregivers. Supplying needed support to these individuals will enable them to maintain or quickly restore their pre-disaster level of independence.
Safety, Support Services, and Self-Determination:
Before, during, and after an emergency, individuals may lose the support of personal assistant services, family, or friends; may find it difficult to cope in a new environment (particularly if they have autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, behavioral, or mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or intense anxiety) or may have challenges accessing programs and services. If separated from their caregivers, young children may be unable to identify themselves; and when in danger, they may lack the cognitive ability to assess the situation and react appropriately. All adults, including adults with access and functional needs, have the right to self-determine the amount, kind, and duration of assistance they require.
Individuals who cannot drive or who do not have a vehicle and individuals who may need assistance in evacuating when roads are blocked or public transportation is not operating may require accessible transportation assistance for successful evacuation. Access to transportation assistance needs to be available to those who rely heavily on public transit, including but not limited to low-income and minority communities. This support may include accessible vehicles (e.g., lift-equipped or vehicles suitable for transporting individuals who use oxygen) or information in alternate formats or other languages about how and where to access mass transportation during an evacuation.