September is nationally recognized as National Preparedness Month to highlight the importance of being prepared should a disaster occur. With the COVID-19 pandemic, storms and forest fires continuing to wreak havoc on communities across the U.S., now more than ever it is important to remember to create disaster preparedness plans that include people with disabilities.
Below are five strategies to ensure that you include employees with disabilities in disaster preparedness efforts:
- Create an Occupant Emergency Plan in collaboration with people with disabilities. Occupant Emergency Plans outline what steps occupants of a facility will take during an emergency. OEPs are usually developed and implemented by the tenants of a facility and help foster a sense of order and preparedness when an emergency happens. Developing a facility’s OEP in collaboration with people with disabilities will ensure that the needs of the people with disabilities who work in or patron the facility are met. Discussing safe and accessible paths of exit, for example, is imperative for people with physical disabilities. Don’t forget to practice your plan! Learn more tips about including employees with disabilities in your facility’s OEP here.
- Offer opportunities for employees to voluntarily self-identify as people with disabilities. It is important to know if your employees will need accommodations or evacuation support in the event of an emergency. Offering an opportunity for employees to self-identify as a person that requires assistance in disaster scenarios will help employers to adequately plan ahead. Note: Do not assume that because a person has a disability, he/she need extra help. People with disabilities often already know exactly what support they will or will not need in a crisis situation.
- Provide emergency information to all employees in a timely manner. In emergency situations, people with disabilities are often the last to receive essential updates, especially Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired individuals. To prevent this, give all employees, with and without disabilities, emergency updates at the same time. All updates also need to be in an accessible format, including Braille and plain language. Be mindful of access to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and direct support professionals (DSPs).
- Create emergency contact forms. Do you know who to call if one of your employees has a crisis in the workplace? Having emergency contact information on hand will assure not only that your employees’ needs are adequately addressed, but also that their wishes are respected. It may not always be necessary, for example, to call an ambulance.
- Plan ahead for accessible transportation. Whereas many people can use a car to make a quick getaway when a crisis strikes, this is not an option for many people with disabilities. Working with local emergency wheelchair accessible transportation services, such as paratransit, will help employees with physical disabilities get to safety. Having staff designated as transportation accessibility coordinators can help prevent employees with disabilities from getting left behind.
When creating disaster plans, it’s important to remember that the disability community is not a monolith; there are many types of disabilities, ranging from intellectual to sensory to physical. The needs of a person with a learning disability may not be the same as a person with a physical disability, for example. Become a member of the National Business and Disability Council (NBDC) for support creating disaster plans that include employees with disabilities. What disaster preparedness measures does your company have in place to support employees with disabilities?