The past two weeks have given us a stark reminder of how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have impacted the lives of millions. People have faced sudden evacuations. Their homes have been damaged, or destroyed.
For people with disabilities, a crisis may pose a whole additional set of challenges. How do they maintain access to their assistive technology? What happens if a device is damaged or destroyed? For users of AAC, the loss of their communication device may leave them voiceless. This may make it hard or impossible to communicate with medical professionals or emergency responders.
You can download and print emergency communication 4 ALL letter and word communication aids from the Institute on Disabilities. The boards are available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole. They contain text and picture symbols. There is also a “keyboard” to allow the user to spell out messages. There is a section for personal information. This can be filled out in advance and the board can be kept with an emergency kit, or Go Bag.
What else should be included in your Go Bag? The Institute on Disabilities has several free webinars on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. There is also a webinar for emergency responders. The website also contains the link to the My Emergency Readiness Plan-PA. This is an interactive form designed to help people with disabilities and their families to create personal plans to prepare for emergencies.
There are some other planning steps that can be especially important to those who depend on AAC.
- First, how is your device backed up? Imagine that you backup your vocabulary file to your home computer, only to have that destroyed by a flood. Consider using a cloud-based service, such as DropBox. That way you will be able to maintain your customization even if your speech generating device needs to be replaced!
- Keep a copy of your vocabulary file on a flash drive and keep this in your Grab and Go bag. If you need to reset your device while in a shelter, your vocabulary is right there with you.
- Make sure that you charge your equipment prior to a possible loss of power. Depending upon the device type, consider keeping an extra, fully charged, hot swappable battery in your Go bag, as well as an extra charger. Keep photocopies of any paperwork pertaining to the ownership of the device and the warranty.
- Create a full low tech backup of your vocabulary set. You can do this by taking screenshots of the “pages” on your speech generating device. The pages of this backup book can be laminated and placed in a binder. This can be used if you are forced to evacuate to a shelter for several days. This way, the AAC user can take advantage of their prior device knowledge (icon location, field size, etc…) when depending upon a low tech substitute.
A bit preparation can go a long ways towards ensuring that communication is still possible, even under the most difficult of circumstances. Communication needs to happen everywhere.