Spinal Cord Injury BC

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Emergency Essentials for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities face unique challenges when it comes to emergency preparation, evacuation, shelter, and the recovery process. By planning ahead and accounting for your specific needs, you can more confidently protect yourself when disaster strikes.

Posted on September 22, 2020
by Spinal Cord Injury BC

Here are some tips and advice on how to best prepare for an unexpected emergency, natural disaster or pandemic.

Create a support network of family and friends that will help when the time comes. Give each member a spare set of car and house keys and include a contact who is near enough to help, but far enough away to be unaffected by the same crisis.

Develop a plan (here’s a great emergency planning resource from Technology for Living to get started). Be sure everyone knows where you keep your emergency supplies, which medical devices or assistive technology you’ll need in case of evacuation, and what to do if you require oxygen or mechanical ventilation. Know where the closest medical supply store is to you or be prepared to ask for directions if you are in an unfamiliar area. Don’t assume emergency responders or volunteers will know how to direct people appropriately.

Talk with your property manager and employer about how your building evacuation procedures include people with disabilities. If they don’t, discuss how they can change to better meet your needs (chances are these changes will also benefit many other people in your building/neighbourhood!). Practise your plan, including using evacuation chairs, just like you would a fire drill.

Understand your transportation options. Many people rely on public transportation to get around but it’s important to understand that this may not be an option during an emergency. Reach out to a friend, neighbour or family member with access to a vehicle that could provide transportation if needed. Know your community’s emergency evacuation routes and plan ahead for different scenarios (i.e. bus, train, car, by foot). If you do have your own car, keep some car repair essentials and extra gas in your trunk. Be aware that your vehicle could be damaged or be of no use during an emergency. Think about your other options.

Prepare an up-to-date emergency kit and store it in an easy-to-find location. Your kit should include the following:

    • Spare set of car and house keys (#1) for designated friends and family who will be there to help you when needed.
    • Flashlights, hands-free headlamps, or battery-powered LED lanterns (#2). Keep these in different areas of your home—and don’t forget extra batteries (#3)!
    • A wheelchair repair kit (#4) including a tire patch kit, a seal-in-air product, inner tubes and tires, and a manual tire pump (#5). Include heavy gloves (#6) for wheeling over sharp debris and latex-free gloves for anyone providing you with personal care.
    • Medical supplies, including spare catheters, and medication for 72 hours or longer (#7). List all food/drug allergies and current medications (dosage, frequency, generic name, the medical condition being treated and contact of prescribing physician.) Share this list with your support network. Plan with your doctor for emergency prescription refills and have a strategy for medications that require refrigeration. If you can’t afford to stockpile your medication in advance, have a conversation with your health provider to discuss what other alternative options are available.
    • Use a smartphone app (#8) to set up an easy-to-access personalized medical ID specifically for emergencies.
    • Water (#9) in transportable bottles (two litres per person per day) and non-perishable, ready-to-eat foods (#10) that won’t spoil. For cans, include a manual can-opener.
    • A first aid kit (#11) including a personal assessment checklist identifying areas of your body that have reduced sensation and may need to be checked for injury.
    • A working corded telephone (#12) or battery-powered charger for your mobile phone. To conserve battery power, lower the brightness, close inessential apps and, unless you need immediate Internet access, put your phone in airplane mode. Put your phone to sleep, rather than turning it off.
  • Warm clothing and emergency blankets (#13).

  • Additionally, cloth blankets (#14) and rope (#15) can help transport you during an emergency, and duct tape (#16) can do virtually anything.

  • A paper copy of your emergency plan and contact information (#17) including phone, email, and social media info for your family, friends, caregivers, neighbours and important medical contacts. Include local emergency contact numbers as well as 1 888 POWERON (1 888 769 3766) for reporting an outage.

  • A whistle (#18) or personal alarm in case you need to call for help.

  • External battery packs, chargers (#19), and generators. Keep a spare deep-cycle battery handy for motorized mobility devices or life-sustaining equipment.

  • Games, cards, and books (#20) can help alleviate anxiety and boredom while you wait.

  • Tag or label (#21) essential equipment, that will need to be used, moved or maintained by those providing assistance during an emergency. It’s a good idea to keep hand sanitizer (#22) close by for your personal use and for those who are helping you with your care routines.

  • If you have a pet or service animal, remember to plan for its needs. And keep a recent photo of your service animal on hand(#23) in case it gets separated from you.

Some extra items not included in the photo above:


  • Bungee cords. These can be helpful to attach to your chair when using an emergency cot of while sleeping in an unfamiliar location to avoid your chair being “accidentally” moved or misplaced.


  • Air quality can change without notice during a natural disaster. Keep a mask and/or HEPA air filters on hand to help with smoke, floating debris, etc.


  • Include extra catheters in your kit. Think of it like packing underwear, always pack more than you need!

If you don’t have your own method of transportation, lugging around an emergency kit like this can be difficult, if not impossible. People in this situation should focus on gathering personal medications, catheters, and the bare essentials for their kits. Keep the above items in your home but recognize that getting out of a dangerous situation quickly and safely is often more important than carrying everything you need when it’s not realistic.

Finally, check with your municipal office to find out if emergency shelters in your area are wheelchair accessible and notify your regional health authority and BC Hydro about your needs. To determine the type of help you will need in an emergency, do a self-assessment at gov.bc.ca/preparedbc

Read this blog or visit our SCI Info Database for more emergency preparedness tips and resources.

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