McHenry County Department of Health - Emergency Preparedness & Response
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Functional or Access Needs

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Preparedness for People with Functional and Access Needs

People with functional or access needs may have a disability (physical, mental, emotional), chronic medical condition, lack of transportation, be elderly, be unaccompanied children, have limited English proficiency or be non-English speaking or geographically isolated.  Often, people with functional or access needs who are self-sufficient under normal circumstances may need to rely on the help of others in a disaster. These individuals may need to take extra care and time in preparing for emergencies to ensure that their needs will be met.

wheelchairwatersportsA support network of trusted friends, family, neighbors and co-workers can be established to help during emergencies; share plans within this support network. Community service organizations, websites and mobile apps are available to provide additional assistance. Discussing needs with other people, employers and building managers can ensure issues are resolved prior to an incident.

If you or a neighbor, friend or family member has a functional need, consider the following tips to prepare. This can help reduce the fear, panic and inconvenience surrounding a disaster.

  • People who are deaf or hearing-impaired may not hear warning sirens or alerts given over the radio or television. Arrange for another source of emergency information such as text message alerts
  • People who have a visual impairment may be reluctant to leave familiar surroundings if there is a request to evacuate. This is especially true if the request comes from a stranger
  • People with limited vision may need to plan for help reading signs or instructions
  • A guide dog or other service animal may become confused or disoriented in a disaster. A disabled person may need assistance for themselves and their guide dog. Service animals also need to be included in emergency plans; including food, bowls, leash, and any medications
  • People with limited mobility may require help when evacuating or moving to a shelter 
  • Many chronic respiratory illnesses are aggravated by stress. If needed, have portable oxygen (O2) available
  • People with mentally disabilities may need assistance from someone they trust to understand emergency instructions
  • People with complicated medication regimens may need to have an emergency supply of medication available. Be sure to write down the names and instructions for all medications and contact information for the prescribing physician/s
  • Plans should be made to educate alternate caregivers who may be called upon to help how to use any lifesaving equipment or administer medicine 
  • People who have special dietary needs should arrange for an adequate emergency food supply
  • Individuals who have a complex medical history, should consider wearing medical tags to alert emergency workers to any health conditions
  • Individuals may not be at home with disaster strikes and should consider sharing an extra house key with someone in their support network; helpers need to know here emergency supplies are stored

Junk on a table These situations may also call for extra preparedness and planning:

  • Single parent households may need help planning and responding to disasters
  • Non-English speaking persons should have back-up means to keep informed about emergency information and to get help with preparedness 
  • People who are unable to drive may need to make alternate arrangements for transportation


For more information on preparedness for persons with functional needs, please visit the following sites:

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