Severe weather can mean life or death for people with disabilities

When severe weather hits, if affects everyone. But people with disabilities can have a different set of challenges and may need to depend on family or neighbors to make sure their lives aren't at risk.

Minnesota has already had its fair share of tornado sirens and storms this year.

"But for me - during severe weather, finding adequate and accessible shelter can be really, really hard," Brittanie Wilson, communications officer for the Minnesota Council on Disability told FOX 9.

Wilson, who identifies as having a physical disability, has to think about severe weather differently than most of us. Her barriers can mean the difference between life and death, safe and unsafe.

"If there's a fire or a tornado, most often the elevators will be shut down right away. And so if I don't get to the elevator as soon as [the emergency] happens, there's a really good chance that I'll be stuck wherever I'm at," she said.

The Minnesota Council on Disability is trying to raise awareness about people in similar situations. The council is asking first responders, public officials and building managers to keep all abilities in mind when creating safety plans. It may include things like ASL interpretation or service animals.

"I guarantee you when there's a severe weather event, an emergency, there will be someone with a disability who might possibly die because they have that disability and they cannot get out or they're not informed the same way that folks without disabilities are," said David Fenley, the ADA director for the Minnesota Council on Disability.

Fenley said people with disabilities are generally an afterthought, which is why it's important for their family and friends to have a conversation with them before and during an emergency situation to make sure they're safe.

The council offers these tips for people with disabilities during emergency situations:
• Create a network of people who will check in on them in an emergency.
Make an emergency kit with things they’ll need, such as important documents, medications, batteries and back-ups for mobility.
Write down the best ways people can help them in an emergency and store it in a waterproof container. Link to this 

"No two people with disabilities are the same," Wilson said.

Wilson’s needs during a weather emergency may be unique to her, but she wants us all to know that people with disabilities deserve the same level of safety as everyone else.

"If we make places accessible for all different types of folks that have disabilities, then we make it accessible for everybody. And you never know what can happen in a disaster. All of a sudden you could become disabled and I bet you wouldn't be really thankful if there was access, right?" Wilson said.

Another tip from the department for people with disabilities: If they know tornados or other types of inclement weather could be coming, they need to stay informed. That includes making sure they have enough food or bottled water to get them through 14-30 days.

The council has a list of resources for people with disabilities during an emergency situation.