Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

Head shot of Lisa Salinger

Guest blogger Lisa Salinger (at left) works for Serotek in the Sales and Customer Service departments. She is a regular contributor on the SeroTalk Podcast Network and provides training in the use of Serotek’s screen reader and related products. Prior to this, she worked as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist/Rehabilitation Teacher for the state of Pennsylvania. You can visit her website, Lisa’s Creative Solutions, and follow her on Twitter @lisasali.

Preparation and Forethought for Any Disaster

The process of preparing for a disaster should start well before such action is needed. But before you start gathering supplies, you need to prepare mentally. As a congenitally blind person, and a fairly non-visual thinker, I couldn’t imagine what devastation looked like, and I really didn’t want to know.

I can recall a blindness radio program in which a guest was describing the destruction after 9/11. I didn’t listen for very long. I couldn’t wrap my mind around damage that extensive, and since I wasn’t bombarded with visual images from the TV, I didn’t have to. I already cared deeply about the loss of life, and I didn’t know how much more I could absorb.

My advice to blind people now is to take advantage of emergency preparedness information, however difficult it may be. At some point, you might find yourself in a situation in which that information could prove to be invaluable.

My Personal Disaster Experience: A Home Flood

In 2011, my home was flooded, and I lost nearly everything. My first and greatest mistake was not to have thought about flooding – and what it meant – before this. Prior to my own home flood, I had been in a home that experienced minimal flooding. It had about an inch of water; just a puddle really. The flooded area was about the diameter of a pizza pan.

I knew in my head that floods could be bigger, and extremely destructive, but in another part of me, the image of the word “Flood” brought forth the image of that glorified puddle.

I had never thought about exactly how the water would get in. In my case, it came in through a drain in the floor of one room, and was very audibly bubbling through a crack in the wall of another room. I had no idea how fast the area would flood. Initially, the water was only in one room up to my ankles. Within fifteen minutes’ time, it was about two feet deep. The estimate is that I had three to five feet of water.

I didn’t realize that the water would be brown. Of course, it makes sense, but it never crossed my mind. I thought that a few things would be lost, but that once things dried out, nearly everything would be okay. I did not realize that a layer of mud would cover everything, and that mold would begin to grow very quickly.

I didn’t even think about the fact that my actual house would be affected. Ultimately, the paneling had to be torn down, and the insulation, which was still wringing wet after nearly a month, had to be disposed of.

I’m providing what may seem like extraneous background information in order to emphasize the point that if you know what to expect, you can be better prepared. I would have moved my clothes and bedding, for example, but I was in no hurry because I thought they would simply need to dry after the flood abated.

My Suggestions for Disaster Planning

It is important, whether the disaster be a hurricane, flood, fire, or some other natural or man-made event, to have all the facts, and to plan accordingly.

I believe the most effective planning process is based upon two primary components: (a) one’s remaining senses and (b) the activities you perform throughout the course of a normal day.

Using Your Senses

When thinking about the senses, my thought process should have been something like this: I have no sight, so I need to think about my “sight substitutes.” Do I have an extra cane? Do I have supplies for my guide dog? Do I have food, medication, and water, if necessary?

Do I have a non-electrical way to know what’s going on? This could include an emergency radio, or the necessary apps on my smart phone, as well as a way to keep my phone charged. This overlaps into the area of hearing as well.

For the sense of taste, do I have food I can use that does not need to be refrigerated or heated? What temperature should each food item be? Many times, significant temperature changes come on the heels of floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

Having enough clothing to change and to stay warm is essential. I have no sense of smell, but I was told the smell from the mold was pungent. I do have mild asthma, and just thinking about the sense of smell, and ultimately the nose and breathing, should be a reminder to take along an extra inhaler.

Your Daily Routine

It is also helpful to think about your daily routine. If you go through the day and mentally list all the things you do, even the small ones, you will think to take items that might have escaped your notice. Things like medications are fairly obvious, but I also needed a way to record relevant information after the disaster.


I moved back into my home a year and a day after the flood. Then, last week, I moved out again. I’ve moved back in safely as of late Saturday night, but I can certainly do without the déjà vu. While no amount of preparation can change the outcome, basic planning and a little forethought are steps in the right direction.