Guide Developed To Help Disabled in Emergencies

May 10, 2005

Contact:Luke Frank, Senior Public Affairs Representative, 505/272-3679; Larry Strickland 505/277-4880




ALBUQUERQUE, NM First responders receive little or no formal training - nor is there an established protocol - for handling emergency situations for people with varied types of disabilities, from people with mental illness to the mobility impaired. Until now.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center's Center for Development and Disability (CDD) has formulated"Tips for First Responders", an 11-page, color-coded, laminated 4.5 x 5.5-inch field guide that offers information on how to assist persons with a wide range of disabilities, including:

  • Seniors
  • People with Service Animals
  • People with Mobility Impairments
  • Mentally Ill People
  • Blind or Visually Impaired People
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing People
  • People with Cognitive Disabilities

Following the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, Senior UNM CDD Scientist Tony Cahill, M.D., Ph.D., was a key figure in convening a national task force on emergency preparedness and people with disabilities. The task force was comprised of numerous federal and state agencies, as well as national organizations representing people with disabilities.

Not surprisingly, Cahill and company discovered that few first responders (police, fire, hazmat and paramedical personnel) have any training or tools to guide them in assisting people with disabilities who are victims during an emergency when every second can be critical.

"In an emergency whether a natural disaster or terrorist attack first responders need quick, easy-to-read information on how to interact with people with disabilities," relates Cahill. "We pulled together a diverse group of people who were informed and dedicated to persons with disabilities and developed a practical, easy-to-use field guide."

As an example, following are some of the "Tips for First Responders" instructions for EMS personnel who could encounter deaf or hard-of-hearing people during an emergency:

  • If possible, flick the lights when entering an area or room to get their attention.
  • Establish eye contact with the individual, not the interpreter.
  • Use facial expressions and hand gestures as visual clues.
  • Check to see that you have been understood, and repeat if necessary.
  • Offer pencil and paper. Written communication may be especially important if you are unable to understand the person's speech.
  • Do not allow others to interrupt you while conveying the emergency information.
  • Provide the person with a flashlight to signal their location in the event they are separated from the rescue team. This will facilitate lip reading or signing in the dark.

"Tips for First Responders is being introduced to state and local governments for their emergency response personnel," relates Larry Strickland with the CDD Development Office. "Judging from the response more than 14,000 have been distributed to emergency preparedness agencies throughout the U.S. these bound decks of tips cards are filling a nationwide, unmet need."

Additionally, UNM's CDD is being asked to lead other states and national groups in examining preparedness and training needs for people with disabilities, formulating solutions and sharing the data results, Strickland offers. For more information about the "Tips for First Responders" cards, call 505/277-4880.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center provides added value to health care through leadership in providing innovative, collaborative education; advancing frontiers of science through research critical to the future of health care; delivering health care services that are at the forefront of science; and facilitating partnerships with public and private biomedical and health enterprises. For more information on the UNM Health Sciences Center , visithttp://.hsc

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