Disability Training for First Responders: Serving People with Disabilities

The Ohio Disability and Health Program has produced a one hour training for first responders on working with people with disabilities. This training has been approved for Continuing Education Credit (CEU and CPT) for EMS, fire, law enforcement, and nursing personnel through by the Ohio Pease Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) and OSU’s Center for EMS. A certificate of completion will be issued following training and post-test completion.

Please access the training through the “Online CEUs” tab of the OSU Center for EMS website: https://www.train.org/odh/course/1072437/compilation

This training is designed for law enforcement, firefighters, nurses, and EMTs/paramedics, and covers the following learning objectives:

  • To identify barriers that first responders face in serving people with disabilities and to provide and demonstrate effective methods to overcome these barriers.
  • To provide first responders with the information and methods that will help to ensure effective and appropriate communication between first responders and people with disabilities.
  • To provide guidance on how to identify characteristics or behaviors of people with disabilities that could be mistakenly viewed as threatening, and to identify best practices to avoid escalating the situation.
  • To identify groups of people who may need special consideration with regard to transportation or situational orientation and to identify best practices for addressing those needs. These will include a discussion of safe lifting, carrying, loading, and evacuation methods.
  • To highlight portions of a Federal law called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 that are relevant for first responders.  The ADA states that reasonable accommodations must be provided when necessary for people with disabilities to receive the same level of services as the general population.

Additional resources for First Responders, many of which are referenced in the training, can be found below.

General Resources

Additional Web Resources for First Responders

Mobile Tips for First Responders from Texas A&M
Mobile TIPS is formatted specifically for use on mobile devices and it provides practical tips for First Responders to help them better serve people with disabilities or other special needs.  Mobile TIPS covers mobility impairments, cognitive disabilities, autism, blindness, deaf/hard of hearing, seniors, childbearing women and more.

Niagara University’s First Responders Disability Awareness Training (FR-DAT.com)
Niagara University offers an excellent on-line resource with information for first responders on disability awareness.

Responding to Crime Victims with Disabilities, Resource Directory for Service Providers
The National Center for Victims of Crime provides a list of curricula and training programs for first responders on serving people with disabilities who have been victims of crime.

Disability Protection and Advocacy

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Crime Against People with Disabilities, 2007
This website presents the first findings about nonfatal violent and property crime experienced by persons with disabilities, based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

Disability Rights Ohio
Disability Rights Ohio provides legal advocacy and rights protection to a wide range of people with disabilities. This includes assisting individuals with problems such as abuse, neglect, discrimination, access to assistive technology, special education, housing, employment, community integration, and the use of service animals. Disability Rights Ohio is Ohio’s federally mandated Protection and Advocacy System.

Federal Laws that Protect Disability Rights

This website provides information and technical assistant on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. It includes a full text version of the ADA. Title II: State and Local Government Activities and Title III: Public Accommodations are most applicable to first responders.

Commonly Asked Questions about the ADA and Law Enforcement
Issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, this document offers common sense suggestions to assist law enforcement agencies in complying with the ADA.  Topics include transportation, effective communication, architectural access, and modifications of policies, practices, and procedures that may be necessary.

A Guide to Disability Rights Laws
Issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, this guide provides an overview of Federal civil rights laws that ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities, including the ADA.  Contact information for agencies and organizations that can provide more information about how these laws are also provided.

Service Animals
Issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, this document provides the ADA’s 2010 Revised Requirements regarding service animals.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Children with Special Health Care Needs EMS Notification Program
Children with special health care needs require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.  In an emergency, many of these children are cared for by local emergency departments and EMS agencies that are not familiar with their special needs.  In an effort to provide the best possible care for children and families with special needs, Nationwide Children’s Hospital has developed an outreach program specifically for EMS providers. This website provides more information about this valuable program, of which all EMS providers should be aware.

Service Animals

EMS and Service Dogs: Quick reference guide to providing safe and efficient care to people raveling with service dogs (PDF)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires hospitals and first responders to modify their practices as necessary to ensure that service dog users are provided with the same assistance as their peers. This quick reference guide can help EMS providers to be prepared to safely transport service dogs alongside their handlers.

Serving Service Animal Teams
This is a 30 minute video produced by the Ohio Trauma Committee Functional Needs Workgroup that provides guidance on how first responders can best serve service animal teams. The video defines service animals, discusses how to identify service animals and where they are allowed to go, and provides best practices for safety and minimal stress. This video also shows a great demonstration of how to load a service animals with its handler into an ambulance.

Cognitive Impairments

Dementia and Aging

The Alzheimer’s Association
If you encounter a person with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association can offer assistance. You can locate your local chapter at this site and contact them with any questions that you may have.  A 24/7 national Helpline is also available: 1-800-272-3900

Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging (o4a)
The o4a is a nonprofit, statewide network of agencies that provide services for the elderly, as well as advocate on behalf of older Ohioans. The Association addresses issues which have an impact on the aging network, provides services to members, and serves as a collective voice for Ohio’s Area Agencies on Aging.

Ohio Department of Aging (ODA)
ODA develops a strategic framework, required by the federal Older Americans Act, to provide leadership that improves and promotes quality of life and personal choice for older Ohioans, adults with disabilities and their families and caregivers.

MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return
MedicAlert + Safe Return is a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency. As a first responder, if you have encountered a person with dementia who you suspect may be lost, call the 24-hour emergency response line (1.800.625.3780) to report it.  MedicAlert + Safe Return may be able to provide critical medical information and help in reuniting the person who wandered with the caregiver or a family member.

Developmental Disabilities

Autism Society: Tips for First Responders
The Autism Society is a nationwide grassroots organization that exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism. This page provides a list of behaviors that people with autism may have and tips for first responders on how to respond. Check out each of the PDFs below for more in depth information on working with people with autism.

Autism Information for Law Enforcement and other First Responders (PDF)

Autism Information for Paramedics and Emergency Room Staff (PDF)

Autism and First Responders: Seeing Beyond the Smoke
The Willow Grove Volunteer Fire Company, Upper Moreland Police and Horsham Fire Company EMS collaborated with The Institute on Disabilities at Temple University to produce Autism and First Responders: Seeing Beyond the Smoke.The 20-minute video features a house fire scenario with suggestions on how to recognize and manage challenges that people with autism may present, along with interviews with Willow Grove Fire Chief Brian Focht, fire fighters Tom Winterberg, Marc Medori, family members and children with autism. Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro provides introductory remarks. This video was funded by the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council

Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council (ODDC)
The mission of ODDC is to create change that improves independence, productivity and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities and their families in community life.

Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD)
The mission of DODD is continuous improvement of the quality of life for Ohio’s citizens with developmental disabilities. DODD is responsible for overseeing a statewide system of supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families

Resources from JFK Partners for First Responders that Encourage Optimal Interactions with People with Developmental Disabilities
This site includes a 1 hour on-line course for EMTs, police, and firefighters that introduces some potential challenges of working with someone with a developmental disability and provides tools to help address these challenges. A training for EMTs that focuses on interactions with people with autism is also provided.

Mental Health

Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT)
NAMI provides information on the CIT program, fostering community engagement regarding mental illness, and CIT for youth. A link to step by step instructions on how to start a CIT program in your community is also provided.

De-Escalating Mental Health Crisis Training from the Ohio Attorney General
This on-line training from the Ohio Attorney General contains four lessons: Understanding Special Populations, Recognizing Mental Health Crises, The Need for Specialized Response, and Responding to Mental Health Crises. The training explains why traditional “Command and Control” techniques may endanger officers by escalating situations involving a mental health crisis.  The training offers examples of non-confrontational approaches which may be safer and more effective.

Resources from De-Escalating Mental Health Crisis Training:

10 Rules for Crisis intervention (PDF)

CIT Framework (PDF)

CIT Quick Reference Guide (PDF)

Lethality Assessment to Determine Suicide Intent (PDF)

Loss Checklists (PDF)

NAMI CIT Fact Sheet (PDF)

Ohio Involuntary Civil Commit Process (PDF)

Online Resources (PDF)

How Many Americans Experienced Mental Illness in the Past Year?
This article summarizes the findings of the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  The survey found that 19.9% of adults had mental illness in the past year at the time of the survey.  A link to the full NSHDUH report is provided.

National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) Ohio
The mission of NAMI is to improve the quality of life and ensure dignity and respect for persons with serious mental illness, and offer support to their families and close friends.  Contact information for your local chapter of NAMI can be found on this site.

Communication Barriers

Interpretation Services

Sign Language interpretation services are generally provided for a fee by private agencies or individuals, and can also be accessed via video phone.  You may request a list of accredited interpretation agencies in your area from the Better Business Bureau or contact one of the agencies listed below.

Portable or telephone interpreter services are also available. Some resources providing interpreter services include Trusted Interpreters and LanguageLine Solutions

Deaf Services Center
Deaf Services Center is the largest provider of community-based services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the state of Ohio. Interpreters are available 24/7. Check website for contact and scheduling information.

Hallenross and Associates is a Columbus, Ohio based sign language interpreter provider company that provides interpretation services 24/7 across the state. Check their website for contact and scheduling information.

The Ohio Relay Service
The Ohio Relay Service is a free public service for communication between standard (voice) users and persons who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, and speech-disabled using text telephones (TTYs) or PCs via the Internet.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)
RID is a national membership organization for sign language interpreters. You can search their online member directory for local interpreters or e-mail info@rid.org for more information on locating a certified interpreter.

Video Training with Tips for Responding to Emergencies involving Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf/blind people
This 10 minute video produced by the Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN) provides tips for first responders on responding to emergencies involving deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf/blind individuals.

Language Identification Tool

“I Speak” (PDF)
“I Speak” is a tool for law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies to identify the language of individuals they encounter who do not speak English.  “I Speak” is provided as a partnership effort between the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services.

Mobility Impairments


Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
The Yale Rudd Center works to improve the world’s diet, prevent obesity, and reduce weight stigma.  This worksheet from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity is designed to help healthcare providers recognize societal and personal bias against overweight people, and can serve as a useful self-evaluation tool for first responders.

Transportation and Evacuation

ODPS EMS: State Board of Emergency Medical, First and Transportation Services
Ambulettes are specially modified vehicles that can transport people who use wheelchairs.  Information and rules regarding wheelchair accessible ambulettes can be found on the ODPS EMS website. Do a web search to find ambulette providers in your area, or check with the Better Businesses Bureau.

Orientation Manual for First Responders on the Evacuation of People with Disabilities
FEMA produced this orientation manual to ensure that first responders to learn how best to perform a rescue using equipment and procedures that facilitate safe evacuation for any person with a disability. The manual provides an overview of disability types, tips, and possible accommodations that may be needed. Carry techniques and evacuation devices that are appropriate for use with people who have physical disabilities or use wheel chairs are also provided.

Wheel Chair Paratransit Taxi Cabs from Yellow Cab of Columbus
Yellow Cab is currently the only taxi service in Columbus that offers wheelchair accessible cabs.  Check on-line to find accessible cab services in other parts of Ohio.  Phone number: 614-444-4444

Rob’s Rescue
The mission of Rob’s Rescue is: to enhance the effectiveness, safety, and sensitivity of the emergency response process for people with special emergency needs and individuals who are morbidly obese through specialized training, patient information, and equipment.  Rob’s Rescue staff is available for technical assistance and also offer presentations that can count for CEU credit.