If you or a loved one has a disability, surviving a SHTF situation is even more challenging. While adequate prepping is essential for everyone, when you have a disability or chronic condition, you need to take extra steps to ensure that you have precisely what you need to make it through an emergency.
But, despite the fact that disabilities are quite common, there are few resources out there designed to help people adequately prepare for any situation.
So, to ensure that you have the information you need to survive, I’ve created your ultimate guide to prepping with disabilities. The survival part has been covered in a separate article.
Why Prepping With Disabilities Is Different
Many people don’t realize how common disabilities actually are. According to the CDC, over 53 million Americans have a disability that impacts their life in some way.
In fact, about 12% of US adults report that they have mobility limitations that makes it difficult for them to move around.
Every disability has unique challenges that require specific care, equipment, and often medication to manage. Depending on the type and severity of the condition, a disability can make regular day-to-day life exceptionally difficult for an individual. These difficulties are exacerbated in a survival situation.
While many preppers stockpile basic supplies and plan to rely on their survival skills to get them through an emergency situation, for people with disabilities this often just isn’t enough.
When you have a disability, you often have to figure out how to manage unique challenges, such as storing medications, powering your medical equipment, or just getting around.
These issues require special consideration and pre-planning to ensure that you have everything you need to survive for weeks or months on end without access to the regular supply chain.
So, prepping with a disability is like normal prepping, but with a bunch of added factors that affect what you stockpile and how you’ll get through an emergency.
General Considerations for Prepping With Disabilities
Every single individual’s experience with their disability is unique, so there’s no single thing I can recommend that will work for everyone when it comes to prepping.
However, there are some general considerations that anyone prepping with a disability should take into account. Here are some things you should keep in mind as you prep:
Know Your Limitations
Most people with disabilities are well aware of what they can and can’t do. As a result, many people with disabilities have found ways to thrive in their daily lives despite their physical or mental limitations.
But, when it comes to prepping, you need to think about what your limitations will be in different emergency situations.
Consider what your main challenges will be if you’re forced to shelter in your home for months on end. Or, think about what will be the most difficult for you if you need to bug out for an extended period of time.
By taking the time to think about how your disability will affect you in a given situation, you can be better prepared to handle any eventuality.
Play To Your Strengths
All too often, people only focus on their limitations. People with disabilites, in particular, are much too familiar with having people tell them what them can and can’t do.
But, you have plenty of strengths that you can play to your advantage in an emergency situation. The trick is knowing what your strengths are, and how you can leverage them to survive.
Perhaps you’re an excellent gardener that can make veggies grow to epic proportions with ease. Or, maybe you’re an ace with thread and needle so you can make clothing out of raw fabric in no time flat.
Even if your skills might not seem too useful in your day-to-day life, they can make a huge difference when you’re in survival mode.
Plus, you can often trade your skills for essential supplies during a long-term survival situation, so it’s important to know where your strengths lie.
Have A Community
Many people take on a “lone wolf” mentality while prepping, focusing on how they will survive, even if they’re the last person left on Earth.
While there is value to being able to get through any situation on your own, chances are pretty high that there will be others nearby that are also dealing with the same emergency.
If you don’t feel particularly confident in your ability to bug in or bug out in a SHTF situation because of your disability, think about who you have nearby that might be able to help.
Having friends or family that live nearby is incredibly helpful, but if not, you can always consider reaching out to your local prepper community. Or, you can even try to find survivalist friends so you can start your own survival group.
In reality, this is something that every prepper should do, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. But, depending on your abilities, you may find that having local prepping friends can make a big difference when you need it most.
Consider Your Stockpile Needs
Many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses take various medications to manage their condition. While taking medication might just be part of your daily routine, in an emergency situation, having enough medication to survive a long period of time without a refill is critical.
Unfortunately, many prescription medications are hard to stockpile. This is particularly true if your medication is a controlled substance, or if it’s quite expensive.
Ideally, you’d have at least a few month’s worth of medication in your stockpile. But, if it’s not possible to acquire this much of your meds at once, you have a few strategies that you can try:
- Talk To Your Doctor. Sometimes, your doctor may be able to write you a prescription for a three or even six-month supply of your meds. This is the easiest way to have more medication on hand than you actually need but it isn’t always possible if your meds are a controlled substance.
- Talk To Your Insurance Company. If you have insurance, it may be that they are putting limits on how much medication you can be prescribed at once. This is particularly true if your meds are expensive. Sometimes, you can get permission from your insurance company to get a larger supply of medication each time you refill, which will help you build up your stockpile.
- Refill As Early As Possible. Should talking to your doctor and insurance company be unsuccessful, your next best option is to refill your meds as early as possible. You can often refill up to a week early. While this isn’t a huge buffer, over time, you can build up a significant stockpile of medication for an emergency situation.
In addition to medication, you may need to consider how you’ll stockpile other medical supplies that are important for managing your condition. People with certain chronic illnesses are often reliant on syringes, nebulizers, inhalers, and other medical supplies.
Others with hearing impairments often need access to batteries for hearing aids and other devices. For people with mobility limitations, having back-ups of mobility devices can be essential for getting around in an emergency.
Since a lot of this equipment is either expensive or hard to find, it’s important to build a stockpile over time. A good way to do this is to commit to buying one spare piece of medical equipment per month.
Or, if your equipment is particularly expensive, consider putting aside money each week until you have enough to purchase what you need.
Think About How You’ll Power Your Equipment
If you have a disability that makes you reliant on medical or mobility equipment, you’ll need to find a way to power it if you’re without electricity. If this equipment is absolutely vital to your survival, it’s best to have multiple ways to back it up.
Back-up generators are often a good choice, but be sure that you have enough fuel to keep them going for a considerable amount of time. You might also want to consider installing a permanent standby generator that automatically kicks-in as soon as you lose power.
These generators often run off of your home’s liquid propane or natural gas reserves, so they’re great for medical equipment that can’t be out of commission for more than a few minutes.
It’s also wise to consider a secondary back-up generator that runs on an alternative fuel source. Solar generators are becoming more reliable and popular each year, so they could be a good option for your home.
You may even want to think about getting a portable generator that you can quickly throw in the back of your vehicle if you need to bug out.
Or, if your medical equipment runs on batteries (such as hearing aids and blood glucose monitors), you’ll want to have a sizable stockpile of the right size batteries at home, just in case.
Finally, don’t forget to think about the risk of EMP when it comes to your electrical devices. You may want to build a Faraday cage to store back-ups of your most important devices.
Organize Your Medical Information
If you have a lengthy medical history, it’s incredibly important that you have all of this information compiled in an organized manner.
Keeping your medical records and your pertinent medical history inside an emergency binder can help you get the care you need if you’re not able to communicate and someone else has brought you to a hospital.
Inside your emergency binder, you’ll want to also include copies of your ID as well as information on your health insurance. The more information you include here, the more useful it will be in a true emergency.
Prep For Your Service Animal, Too
If you have a service animal, you’ll need to be sure that you prep for them, too. Since your service animal will stay with you, whether you’re bugging in or bugging out, you need to have enough supplies to care for them throughout a lengthy SHTF situation.
The most important consideration when prepping for a service animal is food. Be sure to have more food in your stockpile than you think you need, as well as treats and toys for downtime.
You may also want to have some ear and eye protection available for your service animal to protect them from loud noises and dangerous particulates in the air.
Other things you may want to consider stockpiling include a spare harness, a spare leash, and a spare collapsible food bowl. It’s also wise to create a bug out bag for your service animal so you can ensure that they have what they need, even if you need to evacuate your home.
Prepping Tips For Common Disabilities
Now that I’ve discussed some general considerations for prepping, I’ll dive into more specific advice for prepping based on different disabilities.
Having limited mobility can make prepping challenging because it can make it difficult for you to evacuate your home if you need to bug out.
However, with some careful pre-planning, it is more than possible to survive an emergency, regardless of your mobility issues.
Here are some things to consider when prepping when you have limited mobility:
Have Spare Equipment
If you use a walker, cane, or wheelchair to get around, you’ll want to be sure that you have a spare, just in case. Should you use an electric wheelchair, consider having spare batteries, or an alternative way to charge your device if you’re cut off from the power grid.
Ensure That Your Home Is Accessible
Hopefully your home is already fully accessible so you can get around during your day-to-day life. If not, work on ways to make it easier to maneuver by installing ramps and handrails that will quikcly lead you to the exits, and your safe room.
Keep Your Emergency Supplies Handy
It’s a good idea to keep your emergency supplies scattered around your home in a few different locations if you have mobility issues. Since you may not be able to get to your supply closet, your garage, or your basement in an emergency, you may want to have some supplies in your bedroom, or next to your favorite chair.
Doing so can ensure that you have some food and water available if you can’t access your full stockpile.
Store Supplies In Smaller Containers
While some people choose to store food and water in large containers, if you have difficulty lifting heavy objects, this may not be very practical. Try storing your emergency supplies in smaller, more manageable containers whenever possible.
Consider Your Transportation Needs
Depending on your level of mobility, getting from your home to a safe location while bugging out can be a challenge. This is particularly true if you use a wheelchair and need to use a specialized vehicle to get around.
Take some time to think about what you can do if you can’t access your vehicle in an emergency. Are there other ways that you can get around?
Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a bug out bag already packed into your car if you have limited mobility. Since it might take longer for you to evacuate your home, you don’t want to waste time or energy carrying your gear into your car.
Also, be sure you have a spare cane, walker, wheelchair, or other mobility devices in your car so you can get around on foot when you arrive at your location.
Bug In Instead of Bugging Out
If your mobility is really limited, you may need to plan on bugging in instead of bugging out. This is particularly true if you live alone.
If you know that you likely have to bug in instead of evacuating your home, then put most of your prepping efforts into having a truly substantial stockpile of supplies.
It’s also wise to try to prepare your home to survive natural disasters, like earthquakes and floods so you can feel confident in the structure of your house throughout an emergency.
Turn Your Wheelchair Into A Bug Out Bag
In some situations, bugging in just isn’t possible, even if you have limited mobility. If you use a wheelchair, you can think about turning into a bug out vehicle so you’re always ready to go when disaster strikes.
Depending on the configuration of your wheelchair, you can try to attach a wheelchair wagon to the crossbar on the back of the chair.
This will allow you to carry essential gear and supplies at all times. Or, you can try to attach a carry pouch to the back of your chair and some side pockets to the arms for added equipment storage.
Finally, don’t forget that your wheelchair might need to travel over some tricky terrain in an emergency. Think about how you can improve the suspension on your chair or potentially swap out your tires for an all-terrain option.
If you have an electric-powered wheelchair, you might want to consider a solar charger to keep you moving even when you’re far from an outlet.
Deaf Or Hard Of Hearing
In reality, the only thing that deaf or hard of hearing people can’t do is hear. But, in a world that relies so much on verbal communication, this can present some unique challenges to deaf or hard of hearing preppers.
If you have hearing loss, your main concern in a disaster is effective communication.
While technology has made it easier for deaf or hard of hearing folks to communicate with each other and with people that have normal hearing, these options may not be available to you in a SHTF situation.
So, here are some things to consider while prepping if you’re deaf or hard of hearing:
Have Spare Batteries
If you rely on hearing aids or other devices for hearing assistance, be sure that you have plenty of spare batteries in your emergency stores.
People that use rechargeable hearing aids should plan to have back-up batteries or portable power banks available, too.
Install The Right Smoke Alarms
Only certain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are certified for use by people with hearing loss. These devices will have bright strobe lights that can wake you up and alert you to danger even if you can’t hear. Be sure that you have these properly installed in your home.
Have A Communication Plan
If you are a good lip reader and communicate verbally with hearing people, then you may not need to plan as much as someone else that relies mostly on sign language.
Should you have difficulty communicating with others, consider keeping a card in your wallet that has information like “I’m deaf and I speak American Sign Language (ASL)” written down. You may also want to carry a notepad and pen with you if an interpreter is not available.
Other options include downloading simultaneous transcription software to your phone, like the Otter app. This can be helpful for situations where you need to communicate quickly, and don’t have time for pen and paper.
Have A Way To Get Information
In a SHTF scenario, many preppers rely on emergency radios to get up-to-date information on a current disaster. For someone that’s deaf or hard of hearing, though, these radios aren’t very useful.
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While we often get emergency alerts on our phones, if cell towers are down, then your phone won’t get signal. Thankfully, there are some emergency alert radios for the deaf and hard of hearing that will flash and give you a brief text message during an emergency.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
If you or a loved one has an autism spectrum disorder, a disaster situation can be especially challenging. How you prep when you or someone you know has autism greatly depends on your unique abilities, challenges, and triggers.
Here are some key things to keep in mind while prepping if you or a loved one has autism:
Know Your Triggers
You’re probably well aware of what triggers your anxiety and meltdowns. Disaster areas can be particularly troubling for someone with autism because they’re often loud, chaotic, and filled with new sights, smells, and sensations.
This can easily lead to sensory overload, and trigger a meltdown. But, if you know what your triggers are, you’ll be better able to avoid or manage these triggers in an emergency situation,
Stockpile The Essentials
Every person with autism is different, and has certain items that can help them create a comforting low sensory arousal situation.
Whether this is a weighted blanket, noise-canceling headphones, or dark sunglasses, make sure you have extra supplies in your stockpile.
You may also need to pack spare communication tools, like communication boards or cards, in your bug out bag, just in case.
It’s also worth stockpiling some extra comfort supplies, like a favorite blanket, item of clothing, or stuffed animal. Having some special treats or anything else you can think of that can help comfort you in an overwhelming situation can be helpful when SHTF.
Blindness and other visual impairments can hamper your ability to respond to an emergency situation, particularly if you have to abandon your home.
Here are some things you might want to consider for prepping if you are visually impaired:
- Have Spare Visual Aids. If you use a long cane to help you navigate, it’s wise to have a backup or two, just in case. Or, if you use other low vision devices, it’s a good idea to have a few extra in your stockpile.
- Prep For Your Guide Dog. We’ve already mentioned prepping for your service animal, but this is particularly important if you rely on a seeing-eye dog. Be sure that you have enough food for your service animal in your stores and don’t forget to have a spare harness. Also, it’s worth packing a bug out bag for your service animal that includes laminated copies of all of their certifications, vaccinations, and training records.
- Create A Bug Out Plan. Creating a bug out plan can help ensure that you know what to do should you have a visual impairment and need to evacuate your home. Since you may need help from others for transportation, particularly by car, it’s worth talking to any friends or family that you may have nearby to see what they can do to help you bug out.
- Keep Everything Organized. If you have a family member with a visual impairment, it’s helpful to keep your emergency stockpile super organized so that they can memorize where everything is. If your family member uses braille, it might also be worth adding braille labels and a braille inventory list to your gear so they can always have access to essential supplies.
Medical Disabilities / Chronic Illnesses
If you’re living with a medical condition or a chronic illness, you will likely need to do quite a bit of prepping to ensure that you have enough of your most essential supplies.
For people with chronic illnesses, the three main concerns are: (1) medication, (2) medical supplies, and, (3) having power for your medical supplies.
I’ve already discussed these three concerns in some detail, so I won’t drag on about them here. But, some other things you might want to consider include:
- Storage For Medications. Some medications, particularly insulin, need to be stored at very particular temperatures. If SHTF, your regular fridge may not work. So it’s worth investing in a propane refrigerator or a back-up generator to help keep your medications at the right temperature in an emergency.
- Create Supply Bags. If your condition requires quite a bit of daily management, it might be worth creating dedicated supply bags just in case you’re separated from your stockpile for a period of time. Create a handful of purpose-built bags with a 3-7 day supply of all of your medications, test strips, and other medical supplies that you can leave in your car, bug out bag, or even at the office. The more access you have to your essential medications, the better.
- Stick To Your Diet. When stockpiling food in your emergency stores, try to collect food that’s as close to your normal diet as possible. This is particularly important if you use diet to manage your condition, but is also wise for anyone with a chronic illness. You don’t want to cause a different medical issue or make yourself feel uncomfortable in an emergency just because your food supplies are drastically different from what you normally eat.
- Consider Your Mobility Needs. If your chronic illness limits your mobility, don’t forget to factor your mobility limitations into your planning. In addition to the tips I listed in the section for people with limited mobility, you might want to consider making some modifications to your home, such as creating waist-height raised garden beds, to make yourself more self-sufficient in an emergency. You could even try growing some medicinal herbs that you can take if you run out of your medication.
- Always Have Your Medical Records. If you have a chronic illness and end up in the hospital, you certainly want to have all of your medical records available so you can get the care you need. Have an emergency binder at home, in your car, and in your bug out bag that lists your medical history, your medications, your health insurance information, your emergency contact information, and your doctors’ phone numbers.
Depending on the level of your intellectual disability (or that of a loved one), you may need to take particular care to ensure that you’re fully prepared for an emergency.
Many people with intellectual disabilities live with caregivers, but plenty of folks with intellectual disabilities live an independent lifestyle, which further increases the need to be ready for any situation.
Regardless, emergency preparedness is critical for people with intellectual disabilities. Here are some things you might consider:
- Practice Your Bug Out Plans. For some people with intellectual disabilities, familiarity with a plan reduces anxiety and stress. So, it’s worth practicing your bug out plans a few times to ensure that you or your loved one is familiar with what will happen if you need to leave home.
- Discuss What To Do In A Survival Situation. If you want to survive a SHTF situation, you have to know what to do. So, if you’re a caregiver or relative of someone with an intellectual disability, you might want to consider having a chat with them about some of the different things they can do to keep themselves safe in an emergency. It’s also worth discussing what’s in their bug out bag, and how they can use this gear to survive.
- Build A Support Network. A strong support network is important for everyone, but it’s even more critical for people with intellectual disabilities. It’s important to know that you’re not alone, even in a bad situation, so consider creating an emergency contact card with phone numbers and addresses of nearby friends and family that may be able to help. Or, consider creating a prepper community that can help you or a loved one if the situation gets really bad.
Mental Health Conditions
Mental health issues are much more prevalent than people think. In fact, the WHO estimates that upwards of 25% of people experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
Since mental health issues span a wide spectrum, it’s not possible to give specific advice for every condition. But, here are some things to consider as you plan:
- Have Enough Medication. If you take medication to manage your condition, be sure you have enough of it. Read up on my suggestions for building up a stockpile of your prescription, even if you can’t get it in bulk.
- Consider Where You Can Find Support. During an emergency, you probably won’t have access to your regular psychologist, doctor, therapist, or support group. So, it’s worth thinking about how you can find support among your friends, family, and neighbors when SHTF. While this is certainly not ideal, having a few people in your immediate circle that are knowledgeable about your condition and how to best support you can be critical.
- Stick To Your Routines. For many people with mental illness, a major life change, like an emergency situation, can upend your treatment and your path to recovery. So, even when SHTF, try to create a routine for yourself that will help keep you alive and busy during a disaster. Figure out what helps you stay on track, and be sure to stick to this when times are rough.
Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t be prepared. In fact, having a disability is another reason to be prepared.
What’s important to remember is that every person and every disability is unique. If you have a disability, you know what support and equipment you need.
So, it’s really just about ensuring that you have a system in place to satisfy all of your basic needs in an emergency. Happy prepping!
Gabrielle is a wilderness survival expert, mountaineering guide, and professional outdoor educator, with specialties that include firearms handling and wilderness medicine. She is also a freelance writer for a variety of outdoor and survival publications.