People in the United States are living longer than ever before. The upside to longer lives is better medical care and quality of life. The downside to longevity is the emergence of several age-related medical conditions, many of which impact eyesight. Millions of dogs also suffer from eye conditions. Consider these stats compiled by the National Eye Institute (NEI):
- Eye diseases and vision loss have emerged as major public health concerns.
- Currently, 2 million Americans ages 40 and older are visually impaired.
- By 2030, when the last Baby Boomers turn 65, this number is projected to reach 7.2 million, with 5 million having low vision.
- Baby Boomers make great pet owners.
With so many humans and dogs affected by compromised vision, February is designated as Low Vision Awareness Month. Experts define low vision as a visual impairment that cannot be corrected by standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery. Different than legal blindness, low vision is defined as a condition caused by eye disease, in which visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better-seeing eye.
The consequences of vision loss sometimes leave people and pets feeling anxious, helpless, and depressed. Common, everyday activities such as reading, shopping, cooking, writing, and watching TV can prove challenging for those with low vision. That’s a bummer because Lassie is my favorite television program. I would hate to miss it. However, with vision rehabilitation measures that maximize remaining vision and the adoption of special adaptive techniques designed to improve safety, those impacted by low vision are able to maintain their independence and quality of life.
In recognition of our commitment to improve safety for all people, and in honor Low Vision Month, we have put together guidelines and tips for disaster preparation to assist anyone whose daily life is impacted by low vision.
Disaster Prep for People with Low Vision
Evacuation or sheltering in place in an emergency can be more difficult for someone who has low vision. Thankfully, in many cases, service animals help people who have limited sight. Due to limited mobility, incapacitated accessible technology, electrical infrastructure, and inadequate communications with emergency workers can leave anyone who has a disability particularly vulnerable.The best way to overcome such obstacles is to start preparing for disasters well before they strike:
- Create an emergency kit.
Include a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water, a flashlight with fresh batteries, prescription medications, a first aid kit, hand-crank radio, extra batteries, important papers (home deed, insurance, etc.) and all applicable low vision aids and appliances. Don’t forget to include items for your pet!
- Know where emergency exits are located when you arrive at a new location. Although someone who does not suffer from low vision may wait to read exit signs if disaster strikes, people with low vision should acclimate as soon as they arrive.
- Learn several different options for transportation.
Investigate different systems and routes, including several that differ from your normal routine. My preferred mode of transportation? Walking!
- Use the buddy system. In many cases, people with low vision travel with family or friends, since transportation otherwise proves difficult. However, if you are using public or alternate transportation, make sure you connect with someone who might be able to assist you in case disaster strikes. Dogs make great buddies. Just saying.
- Prepare and carry a list of important contacts and associated numbers. Include friends and family as well as local and federal agencies (like the local fire house or Red Cross).
- Practice emergency evacuation plans where you work and live.
As it is with many things, when it comes to low vision and disaster response and recovery, practice makes perfect!
- Alert contacts about your emergency plans.
Make sure loved ones know what you plan to do in the event of a manmade or natural disaster.
- If you travel with a service animal or pet, which I highly recommend, develop a plan specifically for the animal.
Emergency Preparedness for your Service Animal or Pet, compiled by the American Council of the Blind, provides a comprehensive checklist and helpful information.
About Allied Universal Fire Life Safety Training System
Before, during and after Low Vision Awareness Month, we are committed to your safety. Our training helps with compliance to fire life safety codes and instantly issues a certificate to building occupants who complete the course! It’s a convenient and affordable solution designed to fit the training needs of your facility. Click here for more information or to subscribe.