notes. Flashing lights and loud noises may also be disorienting and prevent them from reacting quickly. NFPA’s Emergency
Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities recommends several strategies to overcome communication hurdles,
such as “providing a picture book of drill procedures or color
coding fire doors and exit ways.” You can also create a buddy
system, which works well for any disability, and task job coaches
or school aides to practice evacuation drills.
Given the confusion and fear an emergency can create, you
have to rely on your building to effectively coordinate the life
safety of each and every occupant. Stay one step ahead of ADA
compliance and proactively implement provisions that will help
“Our mindset needs to change about the built environment
and ADA,” says Fraser. “It’s not about two groups of people,
those with impairments and those without – this is about all of
your occupants. If a life safety accommodation works for people
with disabilities, it will work for everyone.” B
Jennie Morton firstname.lastname@example.org is senior editor
descent device, which is a motorized or hand-carried chair. Fraser
recommends products that meet standards for ISO and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North
America (RESNA). Models should also come with safety features
such as brakes so the chair will stop if the operator loses control.
If your facility doesn’t have this type of device, you need to
have another contingency plan to evacuate a wheelchair user.
Schedule practice runs so everyone involved knows how to execute the maneuver without complications.
“You need to hold training for wheelchair evacuation in stair-
wells,” stresses Fraser. “It takes three people to carry a wheel-
chair down stairs – two on the sides and one in back. All four
people are at risk from the time they lift the chair to when they
set it down. Only use this option for extreme emergencies.”
Evacuation sleds are another option and can be used for peo-
ple who are injured as well. It may also be wise to stash folding
wheelchairs at the bottom of stairwells so that once evacuation
is complete, an individual has immediate mobility again.
Provisions for cognitive disabilities should also be a consideration. These occupants may be able to hear and see emergency
messages, but they may not be able to process them fully, Fraser
■ Are there emergency notification devices appropriate for this
person? Does this person know the location of each emergency
notification device/system and understand its meaning and
■ Is there a way for a person with a hearing or speech impairment to
report an emergency?
■ Where is the established outside meeting place?
■ Is the usable circulation path (a continuous and unobstructed
way of travel from any point in a building to a public way) clearly
marked to show the route to leave the building or to relocate to
some other space in an emergency?
■ Do doors used to connect any room to a circulation path have
proper maneuvering clearances?
■ Do all interior doors, other than fire doors, readily open from the
inside without keys, tools, or special knowledge and require less
than 5 pounds of force to unlatch and set the door in motion?
EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLANNING GUIDE FOR PEOPLE
■ Is each exit marked with a clearly visible sign reading EXIT in all
forms (visual, tactile, Braille)? Is every doorway or passage that
might be mistaken for an exit marked NOT AN EXIT in all forms?
■ Are signs posted and arranged along circulation paths to
adequately show how to get to the nearest exit?
■ Do brightly lit signs, displays, or objects in or near the line of vision
not obstruct or distract attention from exit signs, particularly for
people with low vision?
■ Are exit signs and doors kept free of items that obscure their
visibility or a person’s ability to find and feel them?
■ Are usable circulation paths at least 32 inches wide for any
segment less than 24 inches in length and 36 inches for all
segments 24 inches or longer?
■ Can the person evacuate himself or herself with a device or aid or
is assistance required? Has the person discussed with emergency
management personnel his or her preferences with regard to
evacuation and handling of any service animals?
NFPA recommends that you identify all individuals who need accommodations in the event of an emergency. By
working proactively with your occupants, you can ensure provisions are in place in advance of a crisis rather than
as an afterthought. For the full checklist, visit nfpa.org/safety-information.