Survival

How to Survive With a Disability

person in wheelchair

Let’s be real: Surviving a disaster is a monumental task for anyone. But, when you have a disability, getting through a SHTF scenario mostly unscathed is even more challenging.

Unfortunately, there are few resources out there for people with disabilities when it comes to prepping for a disaster. This lack of information leaves people who might already feel unsure about what to do in a SHTF situation even more vulnerable.

So, I’m here to help you figure out your personal survival strategy for any emergency, regardless of any limitations you might have.

General Survival Tips For People With Disabilities

Okay, first things first, here are some general survival tips for people with disabilities.

While every person with disabilities is unique, there are some good standard principles that are useful for nearly any situation you might encounter. In fact, even people without disabilities would do well to follow these tips.

Here’s what you need to know:

Know Your Strengths

More often than not, people with disabilities are told to focus on what they can’t do. But, when it comes to survival in a true emergency, that sort of negative thinking isn’t going to get you very far.

Sure, there are things that you might not be able to do because of your condition. However, you have strengths, just like everyone else, and these will be critical when a situation turns sour.

So, take some time to think about what your personal strengths are. Whether it’s gardening, sewing, woodworking, pottery, or something else entirely, there are plenty of ways in which you can leverage your skills to survive.

This is particularly true if you’re bugging in your home for an extended period of time without access to the supply chain. Bartering your skills for supplies or help from others can be critical in a long-term disaster situation.

Be Realistic With Your Limitations

While there are certainly plenty of things you can do, it’s also important to be realistic with yourself when it comes to your personal limitations.

Although you’ve probably found ways to thrive in your day-to-day life despite your condition, in a survival situation, your systems may not work as well as they normally do.

So, knowing what your main challenges will be during an emergency is your first step toward being better prepared.

Then, once you understand precisely what difficulties you might have while bugging in or bugging out, then you can create survival systems to ensure that nothing will hold you back regardless of what happens.

Create A Support Network

If you live alone, you’re probably quite proud of your independence, and rightly so. But, regardless of how independent you are, it’s critical that you have a support network in place.

This is particularly true if you know that you’d have difficulty evacuating your home. With the right community behind you, you can feel confident that there will be someone to support you when things get real.

In an ideal world, you’d have at least a few people in your support network that live close to you (preferably just a short walk away) as well as a handful a bit further afield.

Friends, family, and neighbors that live nearby can help you get out of your house in an emergency, while those that live far away might be a good resource if you need to bug out away from your hometown.

The key point here is that you have a support network and that they’re clued in to your specific needs. Everyone in your support community should know what your survival plans are (more on those in a bit) and they should be willing to include you in their own preparedness plans.

Have The Right Supplies And Equipment

When disaster strikes, having the right gear on hand is critical. Whether it’s food, medication, or medical supplies, it’s imperative that you have what you need if the supply chain falls apart.

For some preppers with disabilities, two of the most important things to stockpile are medications and medical supplies.

Medication can be tricky to build a stockpile of, though. This is because it’s often hard to convince a doctor, pharmacy, or your insurance that you need more of your meds than what’s stated on your prescription.

But, there are ways to start slowly building up a stock of extra medications and supplies for a long-term disaster situation.

For more specific advice on what and how to stockpile when you have a disability, check out our article on prepping with disabilities to learn more.

Practice Your Skills

We often spend a lot of time talking about what to stockpile for an emergency and what to do when SHTF, but how often do you actually practice your skills? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you know how to do something if you’ve never actually done it before.

When a situation gets stressful, experience counts for a whole lot. Even something as fundamental as starting a fire can seem like an insurmountable challenge if you’re tired, cold, hungry, and stressed.

Needless to say, you’re not going to make this situation any easier for yourself if the first time you ever try to start a fire with a bow drill is when you’re currently bugging out in the wilderness.

So, be sure to actually practice all of your survival skills on a regular basis. Figure out precisely what you’re good at and where you struggle.

Have A Plan For Any Eventuality

In the next section of this article, I’ll offer some advice on different ways to survive in an emergency for various types of disabilities.

However, every single person with a disability is unique, and it would be impossible for me to give everyone specific guidance about what will work best for their individual situation.

So, once you read through these suggestions, make a plan. Sit down and write out precisely what you’d do if a fire, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado destroyed your home.

Then, write down how you’d deal with a home invasion or a burglary if you were home alone and figure out what you’d do if you needed to bug in or bug out for an extended period of time.

While writing this down might seem like a time-consuming exercise, the process of writing your plan down will help you identify any holes in your system.

It’s also a chance to better familiarize yourself with what you actually plan to do so your plan becomes muscle memory when the time comes.

Then, practice, practice practice. The best survival plan in the world is the one that’s best executed in a disaster. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your plans are if you struggle to make them happen in an emergency.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics of surviving with a disability, let’s dive right into the things you can do to survive various disasters in your home, regardless of your abilities.

How To Survive A Fire

Fires are terrifying because they can flare up in seconds, leaving you trapped inside your home with no way to get out. Plus, despite the fact that people often think a fire could never happen in their home, house fires are much more common than you might think.

In fact, FEMA estimates that there were over 15,000 deaths and over 3,600 injuries from fires in the United States during 2018 alone. So, house fires are a real threat to everybody, even the most safety-conscious among us.

But, there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that you get out of your home alive if there’s a fire.

Pre-Fire Preparedness

Surviving a fire is all about setting yourself up for success before a blaze ever happens. Here are some key fire-prevention and survival things to consider if you have a disability:

Install Accessible Fire Alarms. People who are deaf or hard of hearing should have ADA-Compliant hearing-accessible specific fire alarms installed in their homes. These devices have 120V strobe lights that are bright enough to alert you and wake you up if there’s a fire or dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home.

Widen Your Doorways. Most home doors are up to 36 inches wide but are usually smaller. This is fine if for someone that’s very mobile, but isn’t good enough for a wheelchair user or someone that needs to be carried out of their home.

If you have limited mobility consider widening your doorways so they’re all at least 48 inches wide to make it easier for others to carry you to safety.

Use Exit Guidance Lighting In Your Home. People with limited or low visibility can consider installing photoluminescent or “glow in the dark” tape to mark exit paths in their homes. This is particularly helpful during a fire when smoke makes it nearly impossible to see just a few inches in front of you.

Have Fire Extinguishers And Fire Blankets Available. The best way to survive a fire is to stop it before it gets too big.

People with limited mobility that spend a lot of time in one room or in one chair should plan to have fire extinguishers and fire blankets nearby, just in case a small fire starts. Wheelchair users should also consider having a small fire extinguisher in their wheelchair wagon or supply bag.

Consider An Evacuation Chair. If you know that people in your support network might struggle to help you evacuate from your home, consider investing in an evacuation chair that you can leave at the top of your home’s staircase.

These chairs glide down a set of stairs making it easier for others to help get you to safety. But, be sure that you practice using these devices regularly so your support network is prepared to help you.

Have A Communication Device Available. These days, many people keep their phones on them all the time.

However, if you’re not terribly attached to your cell phone, consider having some sort of communication device, like a landline, permanently installed around your home.

Being able to reach a phone can make it easier for you to call your support network if a fire breaks out in your house.

Clear Your Home Of Clutter. Clutter is a nightmare if you need to evacuate your home quickly, especially in a fire. Try your hardest to keep exit paths clear at all times in your home. Doing so will also help anyone that has to come to your house to help get you to safety.

How To Survive A Fire

Regardless of how much we might prepare, anything – including a fire – could happen at any time. Here’s what to do if you have a disability and find yourself trapped in a fire:

Alert Your Support Network. If you need help to get out of your home, your next call after 911 should be someone who knows you and your escape plan.

Even if the fire department arrives at your home first, your support team can provide essential guidance to firefighters to ensure they can get to you quickly.

Try To Put Out The Fire. Hopefully, you have a fire blanket or extinguisher on hand, and you can put out a small fire before it gets out of control. This is particularly critical if the fire is nearby, and you have limited mobility.

Stay Low. Hot air rises, so you need to stay as low down to the ground as possible to get out of the heat. Sit or lay down on the floor instead of standing upright.

Try To Get To Safety. Even if you don’t think you can make it down the stairs or to your front door, try to get yourself to the nearest exterior door or window. That way, it’s easier for firefighters to spot you and get you out without having to travel throughout your home.

As you move around your house, stay low. Crawling is the best option, but if that’s not possible, keep your head down as much as possible.

Create A Safe Area. If you’re stuck in a room and aren’t able to move, try to keep as much smoke out as possible. Stuff towels or clothing under the door to stop the smoke from getting in.

Consider waving out a window to call for help if there is one in the room. But, be careful not to create a draft that pulls smoke further into your room.

Make Noise. It can be difficult for rescuers to find people trapped in fires because of the lack of lighting. Anything you can do to make noise will increase your chances of being found.

If you are hard of hearing and can’t hear someone calling out to you, grab pots, pans, or anything you can bang on to make a constant noise until you are found.

How To Survive An Earthquake

An earthquake can strike anywhere at any time. While there are certain regions of the world where they are most common, we should all be prepared to survive an earthquake, regardless of where we live.

Here are some key survival tips for getting through a major tremor unscathed regardless of your disability:

If You’re Indoors

Stay In Bed. If you happen to be in bed during an earthquake, stay there. You’re more likely to hurt yourself trying to flee to a different room when it’s dark and the ground is shaking.

Grab your pillows and try to cover your head and neck as much as possible to protect yourself from falling debris and furniture.

Get Down On The Ground. Should you feel unsteady on your feet, grab a seat on the ground and try to crawl or shuffle to a safer location if possible.

Your main concern here is falling debris, so try to grab anything you can use to protect your head and neck whenever possible.

Getting down on the ground is particularly important if you have limited mobility and you think you’re likely to fall over, which can injure you even further.

Stay In Your Wheelchair. If you are a wheelchair user, stay in your chair and lock the wheels if possible.

Unless you can immediately reach over to grab something to cover yourself with, bend over, and make yourself small while staying seated. Use your hands to cover your head and neck from any falling debris.

Don’t Try To Run Outside. Running during a major earthquake is a sure-fire way to hurt yourself. While your first instinct might be to try to get outside, doing so might make the situation worse.

Unless you’re very close to a door, just stay put and take shelter inside until the shaking stops. Hopefully, you’ve adequately prepared your home for an earthquake so you’re less likely to get hit by any falling objects while sheltering inside.

Make Noise. Just because the shaking stopped, it doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. If you’re trapped in your home after an earthquake, try to make as much noise as possible.

You might not be able to hear if someone is looking for you, but banging on a wall might alert others to your location.

Try not to scream too much, if possible, because this could cause you to inhale particulates from the rubble that can be dangerous for your health.

If You’re Outside

Move Back From Any Buildings, Streetlights, And Overhead Wires. If you’re in the street, or a parking lot, try your best to move as far from any buildings as you can.

Besides the shaking, which can knock you off your feet, your main danger is falling debris. Getting to an open area is usually your best bet if you want to avoid injuries.

Lock Your Wheelchair Or Walker. Anyone that uses a wheelchair or walker should try to lock the wheels as soon as possible. That way, your device won’t slide as the ground shakes underneath you.

Stay In Your Vehicle. If you happen to be driving, stay in your car and pull over somewhere safe.

Avoid stopping under large buildings, overpasses, or telephone poles when possible. Trying to rush out of a car is likely to cause more injuries, particularly if you have limited mobility.

Proceed With Caution. People with low or limited vision should proceed with caution after the shaking stops.

Regular sound clues might be difficult to find after a large quake with a lot of damage so walking around in unfamiliar places may be a challenge.

How To Survive A Hurricane

While hurricanes can be devastating, the fact that we generally know when they’re going to happen means we can be much better prepared to deal with them.

In addition to all of the great prepping tips we have for hurricanes, here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to surviving one of these storms with a disability:

If You’ve Been Told To Evacuate, You Probably Should

No one ever wants to leave their home behind and, if you have a disability, evacuating can be tricky. But, if you have the right support network in place, you should have people ready to help get you to safety.

Should you stay in your home, you might get lucky and get by relatively unscathed. However, if there is a major flood in your area, you could get trapped in a house that’s becoming rapidly unsafe.

For people with limited mobility, this can get very, very dangerous incredibly quickly, particularly if you’re not able to move to higher ground quickly.

Although your home might be the perfect place to bug in, when there are mandatory evacuation orders, it’s time to start testing your bug out skills to ensure that you don’t put yourself in a potentially scary situation.

Stay In A Safe Room

If there are no mandatory evacuation orders for your area and you’d prefer to stay home, it’s time to hunker down. This is your chance to bug in like a pro in an interior room of your home.

Unless you have a designated safe room, a room in the inside of your home without windows is your best bet. An upstairs floor is usually a good place to shelter. But, avoid attics as they normally only have one access point, so you can easily get trapped inside.

Charge All Medical And Communication Devices

Hopefully, you have a generator that can be used to power the most important parts of your home and charge your devices. If not, before the hurricane makes landfall, be sure to charge all your critical medical devices and communication tools, like your phone.

Have spare batteries and power banks at the ready, just in case you lose power in your home. Keeping your medical devices powered is of the utmost importance.

Turn Your Fridge To The Highest Setting

If you have medications that need to be kept cold, this step is even more important. Turning up your fridge’s settings can help ensure that it stays cold even when the power goes out. This will also help keep your food cold as long as possible to avoid spoilage.

Move Essential Supplies To One Room Before The Storm

When planning to hunker down in your home, work to move all your most essential items into one room beforehand. This is particularly important if you have limited mobility, and have difficulty getting around your home.

When you create a single self-contained room where you can ride out the storm, you’re less likely to trip and fall trying to get supplies if there’s damage or flooding elsewhere in your home.

Be sure that your support network knows precisely where in your home you plan to hunker down so they can find you afterward.

How To Survive A Tornado

Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes hit with little or no warning. This makes them particularly challenging to deal with, especially if you have limited mobility. Here are some tips:

Have A Safe Room. If you live somewhere that’s particularly prone to tornadoes, I’d highly recommend a safe room.

While traditional guidance says that you should head to a basement or a tornado shelter, this can be tricky if you have limited mobility. A safe room is your next best bet, particularly if you can’t move quickly down the stairs.

Own An Escape Chair. Anyone with limited mobility that lives in an upstairs apartment or has a lot of stairs in their home should consider an escape chair.

These devices will make it easier for your family or friends to very quickly get you to a ground floor or basement if a tornado is just a few minutes away.

Keep Your Home Clutter-Free. If you’re trying to move from one room to another very quickly as a tornado approaches, clutter is just a tripping hazard. Keep your home as neat and organized as possible to give yourself the best chance of getting to safety before the storm hits.

Have Communication Tools. People who are deaf or hard of hearing should have some form of visual communication tool that can alert them to incoming tornadoes. Most smartphones have this function, but you can also get an emergency alert radio for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Keep A Flashlight Or Noisemaker With You. Whenever possible, have a small flashlight or noise-making device on your person at all times.

Alternatively, keep a few in your safe room. That way, if you get trapped in your home, you can alert rescuers to your location without having to scream and inhale dust from the debris.

Consider Helmets And Goggles. If you don’t have a safe room, consider putting helmets and goggles in various rooms of your home.

That way, if a tornado arrives, you can protect your head and eyes from flying debris wherever you might end up in a home.

This is particularly useful if you use a wheelchair and can’t easily climb under a bed or table to protect yourself.

Hunker Down. Whatever you do, the most important thing during a tornado is that you hunker down in an interior room, much like you would during an earthquake. If you use a wheelchair, bend over and cover your head and neck from falling debris.

How To Survive A Home Invasion/Burglary

A home invasion or burglary is scary for anyone, but it’s even more terrifying if you’re not sure that you can get away from an attacker because of a mobility disability.

Indeed, knowing what to do in these situations could make a huge difference in your ability to get out alive. These are some things you can do to survive:

Have An Alert System

If you have limited mobility, having an early alert system can help you get to safety quickly if you don’t think you’ll be able to stand your ground and fight.

Alternatively, an alert system can also give you more time to find something to defend yourself with so you’re not caught off guard.

Dogs are often a good option if you like animals, but a service animal may not bark like a pet will, so they’re not always a foolproof system.

Motion detector alarms outside your home that make noises or light up can actually deter an invader before they ever make it inside your house.

Even if an invader gets past your motion sensors, at least you’ll know that they’re in your home. When an invader lacks the element of surprise, you’ll be better able to fight back.

This is particularly true if you have limited vision, as staying one step ahead of a bad guy is critical.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Tools

Should you find yourself trapped in your home with an unwanted invader, you’ll probably have to fight back. This is particularly true if you’re not able to get away quickly or if there are no obvious escape routes.

For people with limited mobility, having some sort of weapon on hand at all times is often a good idea. What you choose to carry is up to you, but anything from pepper spray to a registered handgun is a solid bet.

Also, don’t forget to have some sort of self-defense tool ready to go on your nightstand. If you’re caught off-guard by an invader while in bed, you may not have time to grab anything else or make an escape.

But, don’t discount the usefulness of other items in your house. Nearly any heavy or long object can be used to protect yourself in an emergency. So, take a look around your house, and see what in each room you might use to fight an invader.

Consider Clap-On Lights

This is an often-overlooked but simple way to gain an advantage during a nighttime home invasion.

If it’s dark in your home, quickly switching on the lights by clapping can disorient an invader for a few seconds so you can use your pepper spray or another weapon to neutralize him.

Get Panic Buttons

Placing panic buttons around your home can also quickly alert authorities that there’s something amiss even if you’re not able to get to your self-defense tools or ward off an invader.

Ideally, you’d be able to fend off an intruder on your own, but if not, the sound of sirens alone can be enough to send a burglar running.

Bugging In With Disabilities

If you’ve been prepping for a while, you probably have everything you need to get through an extended disaster from the comfort of your own home.

In fact, for people with disabilities, bugging in is generally the go-to option because you already have systems in place to be able to survive for weeks or months on end.

In reality, there isn’t really anything special about the bugging in process when you have a disability, so long as you’ve thoroughly thought through your stockpile needs.

If you have all of the food, medications, and medical supplies you need – as well as the electrical power to keep everything running – to ride out a prolonged disaster, then going through the hassle of bugging out probably isn’t worth it.

Simply put, for people with very limited mobility, bugging in is going to be your best bet unless you have a good support network in place to help you get to a safe location.

Bugging Out With Disabilities

Should bugging in be out of the question, then it’s time to bug out of your home. Depending on your personal limitations, this process might be very challenging or fairly straightforward.

People with limited mobility tend to have the most difficulty with bugging out, particularly if taking a car just isn’t an option.

When prepping, you should create multiple survival bags that can be left in your home, your car, and, potentially, even at work.

All of these should have a significant stockpile of any of your medications and any medical supplies you might need.

If you can walk for decent periods of time, consider packing a small folding stool or something else to sit on for rest breaks as you trek to your bug out destination.

People with very limited mobility should strongly consider converting their wheelchair into a bug-out vehicle or building a survival vehicle out of an ATV.

A wheelchair wagon can be a great way to carry essential gear at all times, just in case you need to bug out without going back to your home first.

Alternatively, you can retrofit an ATV or similar vehicle to carry your most essential supplies if you need to bug out over rough terrain.

Preparedness Is Key

Whether or not you have a disability, preparedness is critical if you want to be able to survive.

For folks with disabilities, knowing precisely what your strengths and weakness are will help you better develop a plan to get through any situation, whether you’re bugging in our heading for a safe location during a disaster.

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Gaby Pilson

About Gaby Pilson

Gaby 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.
View all posts by Gaby Pilson →

1 thought on “How to Survive With a Disability

  1. interesting, i live off grid on my homestead and have considered posible scenarios if i become disabled, most likely the loss of a hand or foot in an accident would be the problem, i figure if its a foot i would get one or 2 of those athletic prosthetics that look like big springs, i saw something about a marathon runner with no legs using them, and another story about a guy with no legs using prosthetics with ice spikes for feet climbing kilamonjaro.

    as per a hand i figure i will get one of those smaller pruning type chainsaws and mount it in place of my hand, as a logger most of my living is made with a chainsaw, so i would become a real life ash williams in a way and make myself a working chainsaw hand, probably other tool attachments, but then i’m stubborn like that and tell adversity to suck it

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