Prepping is cumbersome for anyone, but for those who are have the added challenge of dealing with a chronic illness or disability,, even a simple bugout can be a challenge.
Ultimately, if you or a family memberhas a disability, then prepping will take careful planning above and beyond what the average prepper must deal with. Disabilities come in many forms and can vary in intensity and restrictions.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to have a disability, you may have a chronic disease, one lasting 3 months or more.
According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 40 million Americans have limitations on their daily activities due to at least one chronic health condition.
- Mobility Issues
- Chronic Illness (Asthma, Celiac Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diabetes, etc.)
- Machine Dependent Illness (COPD, Sleep Apnea, Kidney disease, etc.)
- Hearing, Vision or Speech Impairments
- Mental Health Illnesses
- Dietary Restrictions
There are simply so many additional things to consider if you are bugging out or otherwise facing an emergency and are a person with disabilities or a caregiver for someone with disabilities, such as:
- Necessary medical equipment – e.g. inhalers, hearing aid batteries, or portable oxygen tanks
- Mobility devices – e.g. crutches, cane, walker, or wheelchair
- Mode of transportation
- Service animals
Your ultimate goal is to ensure that you or your disabled loved one has what is required to survive the emergency situation and live as comfortably as possible in its aftermath.
Table of Contents
Bugging in May Be Your Best Bet
Many preppers are set to bug in during less severe events but are also ready to bug out if there is a total collapse or an event that warrants getting out of their home or the city. Unfortunately, this might not be an option for you if you or a loved one are a person with disabilities.
The option to bug out will depend on the severity of the disability, the level of preparedness you have achieved in terms of stocking up on medications and equipment, and the type of transportation to which you have access.
If you can get yourself set up for the requirements of the disability in a bugout location and have a way to get there, then you have a definite advantage.
If not, the next best option is to have that setup ready at home. Regardless of whether you bug out or bug in, it’s a good idea to know what community resources might still be available to you for transportation or shelter if needed.
Having a stock of medications, equipment, and necessary supplies will allow the differently abled person to continue to live at some level of comfort and then you can tend to other necessary matters, such as security, producing food, or keeping warm.
Essentially, you need to be sure you have anything stocked up that you couldn’t borrow from a neighbor.
If you are not equipped to keep the power running over the short- or long-term and the disabled person requires electricity to keep critical equipment running, consider having an alternative plan to get that person to a hospital or shelter location where there are generators that will ensure life-saving equipment can continue to run.
Next, let’s look at the special considerations you have to take into account when prepping for yourself or someone else who has a disability.
The video below goes through a lot of the things you need to know to prepare for a disaster or SHTF event if you have a disability or have someone in your family with a disability.
When preparing, in addition to the basic (e.g. food, water, shelter, heat) you will need to stockpile or have the following on hand and you will need to be able to handle the maintenance of all equipment.
FYI, this section applies to anyone taking prescription meds, whether they have a disability or not. Keep in mind, I am not a doctor, so be sure to consult with your physician when it comes stockpiling any medications you take.
Make a Medications List
Make a list of all required medications, the doses, and when/how often to take each one.
Keep this list along with copies of any prescriptions you have been given recently and your doctor’s contact information in your BOB, just in case this information is needed.
Stockpile Extra Medications
Pharmacies generally stock three days’ worth of prescription medication (sounds suspiciously like a grocery store, which only stocks three days of food on their shelves) and they are often a primary target for looting.
For this reason, you will have to plan ahead for events that will cause a disruption in the medicine supply chain. It’s a good idea to keep the pamphlet that lists side effects and precautions for each medication in your BOB as well.
First and foremost, you should always have on hand a minimum of 90 to 180 days’ worth of medications.
This should be enough to get you through most events and should be relatively easy to obtain, particularly if you have a doctor you can trust. Just discuss having an extra supply of meds on hand and be honest with your doctor.
Now, here are some legal options for getting extra medications to store away beyond that initial supply:
- If the medical condition allows for it, skipping medication doses by taking every other one, cutting doses in half, or even skipping one dose per week will help create a stockpile. This should NOT be done for severe or life-threatening conditions. It may be okay to skip your allergy medication for a day, but it’s not recommended to skip blood pressure or heart medication.
- Plan a trip (which could be considered bugging out) and ask your doctor or a travel clinic for extra refills to cover you while you’re away
- If you travel overseas and can see a doctor during your visit, you might be able to get a prescription and have it filled there and then you can bring it back with you; a three-month supply is usually allowed through by customs, provided it is in its original packaging, is accompanied by the prescription, and it is for personal use for a serious condition
- Buying medications without a prescription is illegal, but border security will often allow medications from international online pharmacies that don’t require prescriptions if they are for personal use and in three-month supplies
Make sure you are rotating your medication stockpile, using the oldest medication first, so that the medicine in your stockpile will be the freshest.
It’s also a good idea to keep any oxygen absorbers, packing, or seals that come in the pill bottle intact until you are ready to use the pills.
Other Considerations for Stockpiling Medication
Every prepper is wise to stockpile medication for troubled times. Everything from basic over-the-counter (OTC) medication for pain, fever, nausea and everyday ailments to prescription medication for any number of conditions and diseases.
However for those who depend on prescription meds for continual life support, be it treatment of a heart condition or diabetes, this takes on an entirely new level of seriousness.
Many such medications are expensive and tightly regulated, and depending on your doctor and his outlook on the situation he may or may not furnish you with a surplus to keep on hand just in case.
Further complicating matters is the fact that many such medications, insulin in particular, have special storage requirements. Some must be kept constantly refrigerated less their shelf life be drastically shortened or their efficacy impaired.
Some medications suffer from a short shelf life at the best of times, meaning that relying upon a large surplus that you will rotate as required may or may not be a viable option.
For those with a disability or other condition that requires such medications, you’ll have to plan around the characteristics of the medication as much as anything.
In the case of insulin, it will be smart to have a small refrigerator on hand just for the insulin, one with lower power requirements than a full size refrigerator. These smaller fridges might be easily run off of a generator or potentially even a small solar farm.
Lower tech options that might be viable could be something like the installation of a root cellar so long as conditions permit truly cool storage.
Know Alternative Medications
Aside from stockpiling prescription medications, search for natural alternatives, which might include homeopathic medicines and other natural treatments, such as herbal remedies.
If you research alternative natural remedies now, before you need to depend on them, you can test their effectiveness under the supervision of your doctor.
These can be a lifesaver (quite literally!) when all other options have run out and they are perfectly legal to store up.
Let’s discuss mobility equipment along with all other equipment here. First, let’s talk about mobility equipment. Be sure to:
- Always maintain the equipment to ensure proper working condition.
- Have a way to keep all batteries charged if electricity fails. A solar charger is a good option. Just be sure that you have a higher wattage charger or solar panel to ensure you can fully charge your batteries. A low wattage solar charger or panel will only maintain a charge or slow its drain.
- Have a backup mobility device, if possible (extra canes, walkers, wheelchairs). It is wise to have a non-electric backup, such as a folding wheelchair. This is particularly important if you have to bug out at some point and the vehicle used cannot take a large piece of equipment. A folding wheelchair and similar folding equipment can fit in the trunk.
- You should keep spare mobility equipment in a separate outbuilding whenever possible, in case the primary equipment is damaged in some way (e.g. crushed during an earthquake).
- A blind or vision-impaired person who uses a cane (with or without a service animal) should keep a spare cane, even the telescoping kind.
- Whenever you replace an older piece of equipment, such as a walker, wheelchair, dentures, eyeglasses, or prosthetic limbs, keep the old equipment as backup, provided it still functions properly and is not a safety risk. Even if these don’t fit as well or feel as comfortable as the newer equipment, they will get you by when these types of items can’t be replaced immediately.
- Have ramps and pathways installed or created that make it easy to get around inside and outside the house.
- If you need something like oxygen tanks or equipment designed to help with breathing or deliver medication, then like the meds themselves, discuss with your doctor about having an extra supply on hand.
- Purchase any additional equipment which would make it easier for you to manage on your own including equipment aids to reach into cupboards, put on your socks or shoes, pick up things from the floor, etc.
If you need something like oxygen tanks or equipment designed to help with breathing or deliver medication, then like the meds themselves, discuss with your doctor about having an extra supply on hand.
You might not be able to stock up for many months, but even a month or two of extra and a rotation of supplies might keep you good to go for three to six months.
Coping with Machine-Dependent Treatments
This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges when preparing if you or someone in your family or survival group has significant disabilities.
Whatever sort of ailment you or another are facing, if it requires specialized, powered hardware for treatment or you must report to a properly equipped and staffed facility for treatment, you’ll be forced to take great pains to ensure continuity of treatment during a crisis.
For instance, dialysis is one such treatment for those suffering from a number of kidney or blood related disorders.
A grueling, lengthy and involved process this is not something that the average person can be reasonably expected to prepare for accomplishing inside their own home.
If you or someone else requires dialysis, or any other similarly involved treatment with machines, all of your planning must be bent around accommodating this requirement. That might involve having a plan to bug out to an area where treatment can be accommodated.
For others, or when dealing with different conditions, actually getting prepared with the right machines of your own and the appropriate training for in-home use as part of a comprehensive long-term survival plan is not out of the question.
Obviously, such machines are often prohibitively expensive and many treatments require specialized training to execute reliably and safely, but if this is the safety of someone that you love or even yourself at stake no measure might be considered too great.
Probably the best place to begin for most people required to undergo these treatments is talking to your care provider. explain your concerns to them, and inquire what would be best to do if by disaster or something else you were prevented from accessing your scheduled treatment at the usual location.
Most medical professionals will be at least passing away familiar with emergency procedures under the circumstances and should be able to provide you with useful information that can supplement your own planning.
But in any case, you must have alternate and contingency plans in place for every phase of your response to ensure that the person who needs such treatment can receive it.
If bugging out, evacuation routes, transportation, communications and if necessary furnishing the required medical records must all be failure proofed.
If the treatment is something you are willing to provide at home with a privately purchased machine, any required materials and electricity along with supplementary gear for providing treatment must be on hand and functional.
If this sounds like quite these survival tightrope that you’ll be forced to walk, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, people with life threatening pre-existing conditions often fare very poorly in survival scenarios where medical infrastructure is badly disrupted.
If you do plan on bugging out or you think it is possible you might need to get a person with disabilities to a hospital, then you need to have a vehicle at your disposal that will accommodate that person. If you don’t, then you will be staying put.
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Many people can manage to travel in a regular car or truck. Only people with extreme mobility issues might need a special van or bus with a wheelchair ramp. Have a plan to ensure you have your bases covered.
It’s also important not to wait until the last minute to evacuate. It would be far better to move grandma to a safe location early on, such as a nice warm hotel room, than be stuck with her and the rest of the family in a lineup of traffic that isn’t moving when everyone else is trying to get out of Dodge.
The best thing to do is make a plan (any prepper should have a bugout plan and practice it). You might have a plan in your head and think the bugout will take an hour, only to find it there are kinks in the plan and it takes you four hours. Consider all the scenarios:
- Will you be able to bugout using a vehicle?
- Will you be on foot?
- Can you redistribute the weight of the BOBs?
- Does the person with disabilities have restrictions on mobility? Is he or she able to help or will you be pushing a wheelchair down the highway on your own?
- Could you carry the person if necessary?
- Can the person with disabilities handle the stress of bugging out?
Plan, test your plan, alter your plan, and test it again. Repeat this until you have your plan down, you know precisely what you are doing, and it will go off without a hitch.
Understand Imposed Limitations
The following is something of a contentious topic, but I genuinely believe that it is vital for anyone who is preparing around a disability or other health condition, be it their own or a loved one’s.
It is important to understand the limitations of both mind and body in the absence of proper treatment and accommodation.
If someone has a physical limitation that impairs mobility, one must know what they are capable of when deprived of their tools and devices, be it crutches, a walker, wheelchair or something else.
If you are completely incapable without it, that’s okay, but it serves only to reinforce how vital the mobility aids are for the individual.
The same goes for medication that is taken as part of an ongoing regimen. What happens if you miss a dose? What happens if you miss every other dose for short interval?
What happens if you miss every dose for a day, three days, a week, or longer? It is harrowing to consider, but these are things you must know if you want to be able to plan effectively for a worst case scenario.
It might not be impossible to train around such a lack. For those with the innate capability and the willpower, even the loss of one or more limbs can leave a person surprisingly able to move themselves and their things around.
Para-athletes do it all the time. Similarly, going without vital medication might mean that you are going to be living through some pretty unpleasant days, but you might be able to survive for some time without it, at least long enough to get more somewhere else.
To be perfectly clear, I am not recommending that you stop taking any prescribed medication for any reason unless it is according to your doctor’s orders.
But this is definitely something you should talk with your doctor about and come up with a workable plan for any situation when you might be forced to go without it.
For anyone who is dependent upon a mobility aid or prosthesis to make up for a loss of physical capability, this is an easier affair to train for.
So long as you’re not putting yourself in conspicuous danger, all you need to do is a “dry run”: complete your daily tasks, survival plan and any other drills without the aid of your normal equipment and mobility aids. This will allow you to answer the following questions:
- Could you or your loved one self-rescue out of a burning home or other dangerous situation?
- Could you still get yourself into and operate your motor vehicle?
- Could you access needed supplies and get underway in a timely fashion?
- How much longer did vital tasks take without the benefit of prosthetics/mobility aids?
When you encounter obstacles, don’t give up, but instead start working around them or through them. Should you encounter a truly insurmountable problem, now is the time to start reassessing your plan to compensate for it.
The Need for a Caregiver or Living Alone
In many, perhaps even most situations, a person with disabilities has family and friends to depend on in times of need. However, there are times when that person is alone or is dependent on a caregiver that is not necessarily a trusted prepping companion.
In these situations, it can be difficult. There are still things you can do to help yourself. You can ask your caregiver to:
- Buy a few extra groceries each time they shop for you, and you will build a stock of food and water gradually, perhaps without the caregiver even realizing it
- Help you put in a small garden or grow vegetables in pots
- Help you make the necessary alterations to your home environment to make it easier for you to manage on your own
It is also important to build a community of people to help you during emergencies or tough times. If you do not have family or close friends nearby, try to connect with people in your neighborhood, coworkers, and others in your life who can help you when things get rough.
Prepping with a Service Animal
If you or a loved one has a service animal, then you will also need to prepare for their well-being. It’s much the same as prepping for a pet, except your service animal is so much more important for your own safety and survival.
You need to be sure you have food, water, and medicines stocked up for your service animal. Chances are, your service animal is a dog, so be sure to have extra collars and leashes stored away.
Since it is a service animal, he or she is already extremely well-trained, but you will need to ensure that training includes what to do in emergency situations, such as:
- Providing protection
- Being desensitized to strange noises and smells, such as the sound of gun fire and the smell of smoke
- Providing additional services, such as pulling carts and carrying packs
- Helping, rather than endangering you in a survival situation
A Word about Mental Preparedness
Planning will help alleviate stress when critical events happen that disrupt our lives.
Having the medications and medical equipment stocked up, along with all the food, water, and other supplies will certainly help set your mind at ease. Aside from this, you can do the following:
- Educate yourself on alternative/natural medicines
- Educate yourself on all signs/symptoms of illnesses and ailments that are related to the disability in question
- Take emergency medical training and get as advanced a level of training as you can
All these measures will help minimize the stress of what will already be a stressful situation.
Pulling Together as a Family or Group
Another important but sadly overlooked mental or emotional element of preparing around disabilities and significant medical conditions is that of family or group cohesion in trying circumstances.
Regrettably, particularly in extended family groups, many members of the family will not have been exposed to the actual day to day truth of coping with such disabilities, whether it is administering necessary medical treatment or just helping the afflicted take care of themselves.
This can be something of a system shock when suddenly, in the midst of an already stressful situation, they must face the sometimes ugly and decidedly unpleasant reality of coping with said conditions.
My own experiences in this realm have shown me that bonds of blood are often not enough to overcome displeasure and disgust at the prospect. This, as you might imagine, can easily spiral out of control into an explosive confrontation, hurt feelings and stress that can push relationships to the breaking point.
Although this is not a factor for every family or survival group, it is not something you should assume will work out on its own or just “be okay.”
The best way to prevent this unhappy occurrence is, if possible, to be sure everyone in the group or family is familiar and at least passingly comfortable with the necessary procedures.
For instance, you don’t want a designated caretaker’s first experience with giving another family member a sponge bath or emptying a colostomy bag to be in the middle of a crisis where they have already had to evacuate under duress.
Of course, it is entirely possible that in the family or group hierarchy a person so afflicted might rely on one or more longtime, dedicated caretakers for the purpose according to familiarity, relationship and so forth.
But, as always, things have a way of not going to plan and accordingly you must have a plan for dealing with that if the usual caretaker or caretakers are not available or incapacitated themselves.
And try to remember and to impress upon anyone who might be responsible for said duties that dignity under the circumstances is very important, and will only serve to make the task easier for all parties involved.
You CAN Prepare with a Disability
Chances are you have already made changes in your home environment due to the disability of yourself or your loved one.
You have already made that home one that the person with disabilities can comfortably live in, get around in, and in which they can continue to do the same things they always did.
The video below gives some great examples of things you can do to prepare by strengthening the parts of your body that do work well or equipping your home with things that make it easier for you to do what’s needed:
Even a large property or a farm can be altered to allow the differently abled person to get around, do chores, and be relatively independent.
- Install handles and shower bars in the bathtub or shower, in the garage, barn, or anywhere that balance or mobility is difficult.
- Place a portable toilet beside their bed or a unisex urinal bottle or bedpan within reach near their favorite chair.
- Store some food and water in locations around the home where a person with disabilities might have to remain (i.e. in a nightstand cupboard beside the bed or a side table next to their favorite chair in the living room). If they are stranded in an emergency and unable to move, they can access food and water using their reach extender without having to try to move around the home.
- Consider using fanny packs, messenger bags, or even wheelchair panniers to allow hands free carrying of needed items.
- Build or get some help building raised garden beds that you can access using your wheelchair or when using your walker or cane.
- Get a stool or bench or install handrails near your garden to assist you in getting up and down.
- Package food and supplies in smaller containers, such as 1-gallon buckets so that aren’t as heavy and are easier to move if you have limited strength or mobility.
- Store water in smaller containers so you can move it easier.
- For those with limited stamina on foot, consider if using a bicycle, wheelchair, cane or walker would increase the distance you could travel during a bug out.
- Make sure your home and bug out bag are stocked with jar openers and bucket openers so you can access your supplies when needed.
Just work to get all these things in place and take care of what we discussed above, and you will be that much further ahead in the preparedness game.
An urban prepper and rural wannabe, Karen has been working as a freelance writer for a decade and prepping for about half that time. She has gathered a wealth of knowledge on preparing for SHTF, but there is always more to learn and she has a passion for gathering and sharing that knowledge with other like-minded folk. Karen lives in London, Canada with her two children and plethora of cats.