Fires often break out suddenly and without warning, and they don’t discriminate when it comes to the lives they affect. What happens when a fire breaks out and the person in danger is disabled? Well, consider this statistic: around 700 building fires involving physically disabled individuals are reported to US fire departments each year, causing 160 deaths, 200 injuries, and $26 million in losses.

From a young age, we are taught to remain calm and exit the building when a fire breaks out, but the smoke can cause you to panic and become disoriented, making a safe exit challenging. For those with a physical, visual, or hearing disability, a safe evacuation can be next to impossible. The following are tips to keep in mind so that you are prepared should a fire ignite, ensuring your safety and well-being.

Take Steps for Prevention

The main causes of fire are cooking, smoking, and unintentional or careless actions, but there are simple steps you can take to prevent a fire. The Red Cross offers the following tips for fire prevention:

  • Never leave food unattended on the stove, and always set a timer when cooking. (Tip: use the vibration setting on your phone for an extra alert.)
  • Keep the cooking area free of flammable items such as towels, pot holders, and mail.
  • If you are a smoker, smoke outside with fire-safe cigarettes. Use a deep, sturdy ashtray, and make sure all cigarette butts have been doused with water.
  • Never leave a candle unattended – all it takes is one bump from you or a pet before tragedy strikes.
  • Turn off space heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep, and remember, your oven should never be used as a heat source.

Create an Escape Plan

Everyone should have a fire escape plan to avoid entering into a state of confusion and panic should a fire break out. Start by identifying at least two exits from every room, and practice opening locked doors, windows, and screens. Make sure all exits remain clear at all times, especially if you use a walker or wheelchair, and install a ramp if needed to ensure you are able to quickly get a safe distance away from your home.

Keep in mind that if you have a service animal, you should practice the escape plan with them as well. For added safety, ask the local fire department for help with your escape plan, and request a home fire safety inspection. In addition, make sure the local dispatch is aware of your disability and has it on file so that emergency responders are aware and informed.

Find the Right Alarm

For the vision and hearing impaired, a typical smoke alarm simply won’t do, but there are fire safety systems that are tailored to your needs. For those with a visual disability, opt for a smoke alarm with a loud frequency and a paused alarm cycle so that you can hear other sounds, assess the situation, and find a safe way outside, as a constant alarm is not only overwhelming, but disorienting. If you are hearing impaired, purchase a stroboscopic alarm that uses color and bright, flashing lights to alert you to the fire. In addition, use a vibrating alarm that you place under your pillow or on your bedside table should a fire break out while you are asleep. You can even program your smartphone to alert you, which is a handy tool for everyone, not just those with a disability. Regardless of your disability, it is important that you keep a fire extinguisher close by in all areas of your home so that you are able to clear the way as you follow your escape plan.

Fires are one of those events that we hope we never have to experience, but should one occur, it is important you are prepared. Create an escape plan, and install fire safety systems tailored to your specific disability so that you can evacuate safely. A fire may be unexpected, but being prepared makes all the difference.

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There are a number of federal, private, and local-government programs that help individuals with disabilities cover the cost of living, home repairs, and other necessities. These safety nets are intended to benefit the one in five Americans who will face either long- or short-term disabilities. Some offer cash compensation, while others provide for specific needs. Read on for more information.

Heating and cooling

All 50 states offer assistance helping low income and disabled families heat and cool their homes. Most programs outline specific requirements, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which offers cash to help pay utility bills as well as make weatherization repairs. Other programs offered by the USDA provide low-interest loans for specific purposes.

Home modifications

Heroes at Home, in partnership with Rebuilding Together, offers veterans no-cost home modification for active duty military and veterans. The program’s first recipient, Sgt. Ryan Major, was honored by the program with a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, bedroom, deck, landscaping, and other upgrades to make his and his family’s live easier. Other programs to offset costs for these kinds of modifications include Specially Adapted Housing grants (SAH), Special Home Adaptation grants (SHA), Home Improvement and Structural Alteration (HISA) grants, and other active single-family housing repair loans and grants.

Medical

People with disabilities have multiple healthcare coverage options, including Medicare and Medicaid. More information on coverage (as well as rights and protections) can be found at HealthCare.gov. Healthcare questions may also be directed to the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services by calling 800-318-2596 or TTY at 855-889-4325.

Employment

Finding work is difficult when you have a disability, since most businesses simply can’t accommodate the unique needs of alternately-abled individuals. For those who are unable to leave their homes, there are a number of lucrative careers, such as tech support and customer service, that can be handled remotely. The federal government – which is the largest employer in the United States – offers selective placement for persons with disabilities. Visit OPM.gov for more information regarding disability employment.

Housing

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development offers non-elderly families the opportunity to participate in the Section 8 housing program via Certain Development Vouchers. Rental assistance through these programs cover Section 8 new construction projects, state housing, and Section 202 housing. Families receiving these vouchers must locate a property that accepts this form of payment, but they are not restricted to a single city.

Food

The average American consumes more than $2,600 worth of food each year. For people on a limited income due to age or disability, this can eat up a significant portion of available funds. SNAP benefits were designed to supplement a family’s food budget. Those who receive federal or state disability may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Most major cities additionally have a Meals on Wheels or similar food delivery service for homebound individuals.

Education

Paying for college is difficult when you are also limited by your ability to work. However, there are a number of grants for students with special needs that will help cover the cost of tuition. The National Federation for the Blind, for example, offers generous scholarships ranging from $3,000-$12,000 to eligible students each year. The Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship Foundation is another organization that offers financial assistance for qualifying students diagnosed with the condition.

In addition to direct financial assistance, there are hundreds of organizations across the country that offer benefits to the special needs community. Easter Seals, for instance, offers resources for adults and children with autism and other disabilities. United Cerebral Palsy is an excellent resource for people seeking to live independently through their disability. Goodwill Industries provides financial coaching, after-school programs, clothing assistance, and employment opportunities for those with physical and cognitive impairments.

To see if you qualify for federally-funded disability benefits, enter your information into the Benefit Finder.

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